Internet Safety Risk For Kids Is Real

Guy de Maupassant, french writer
One in 25 youths on the Internet say they've been asked to make and send sexual pictures of themselves over the Internet, a new study shows.

The study appears in the August edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health. Data came from a 2005 survey of 1,500 U.S. adolescents aged 10-17. Counselors interviewed the youths by phone.

Three hundred youths — one in five — reported interpersonal online victimization, defined as unwanted sexual solicitations or other types of harassment, within the past year. Among the victimized participants, 65 youths said their victimizer had asked them for sexual pictures.

"Only one youth actually complied," write the researchers, who included Kimberly Mitchell, Ph.D., of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

Child pornography is illegal. It's against the law to request or supply sexual pictures of children via the Internet or by other means.

Youths were more likely to be asked for sexual pictures of themselves when they were communicating with an adult they had met online who had sent the youth a sexual picture of himself or herself and had attempted to contact the youth offline (by phone or in person).

Youths should tell a parent or the police about those online safety incidents, Mitchell's team notes.

"Online conversations that involve the requests for or actual exchange of sexual pictures and attempts at offline contact are clear warning signs that youth should disclose the situation to a parent or law enforcement, both because requests to minors for sexual pictures are illegal and also because there is a real risk for additional sex crimes in these cases," write the researchers.

Abused African-American girls were particularly likely to have been asked for sexual pictures, the study also shows.

Mitchell and colleagues urge parents and pediatricians to become aware of the issue and to be prepared to talk to teens about it.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
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