Are your children being sexually abused online? A study reveals that a “substantial part” is

A new study published by the JAMA Network on Friday, October 14, found that a “substantial portion of young people” had experienced child sexual abuse online.

The study, conducted in late 2021, questioned 2,639 children aged 18 to 21 about their childhood experiences of online abuse. Of these, 933, or about 35%, said they had experienced at least one instance of “technology-facilitated abuse” before the age of 18, the authors wrote. Overall, the survey found that 15.6% of participants experienced online sexual abuse as children.

Study: “A significant proportion of young people” have suffered online sexual abuse

  • More than 15% of 18 to 21 year olds experienced online sexual abuse before they turned 18, according to a study.
  • Types of abuse ranged from taking and sharing non-consensual images to self-generated images shared with adults.
  • Foreigners did not constitute the majority of authors; dating partners, friends and acquaintances, including other teenagers, have done so.
  • Parents should have honest discussions with children about how to know if people are trustworthy online and how to identify signs of online sexual abuse, one study author advised.

The different types of abuse covered in the survey and the frequency with which they were experienced include:

  • More than 5% have experienced online grooming by adults. Grooming refers to “a set of manipulative behaviors that the abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them into accepting the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught,” TODAY previously reported.
  • About 11% have experienced image-based sexual abuse, such as taking or sharing a photo without the child’s consent.
  • About 7% have experienced self-generated child sexual abuse images, such as young people creating their own image and sharing it with someone who has shared it without their permission or intentionally shared it with adults. It does not include peer-to-peer image sharing.
  • About 7% experienced non-consensual sexting, which included both non-consensual taking and sharing of pictures.
  • About 3% have experienced revenge pornography, when images were taken or shared to intentionally humiliate the child.
  • About 3.5% experienced sextortion, when someone threatened to post sexual images in order to obtain money or sexual activity from the victim.
  • Almost 2% have been victims of online commercial sexual exploitation, meaning that the child has provided sexual services for payment, including words, images or other online activity.

The authors also noted that in most cases the perpetrators were not online strangers, but rather people the respondents already knew, such as dating partners, friends or acquaintances.

“Sexual abuse migrates online, and most of the studies that have been done on sexual abuse so far have not included the full range of experiences of sexual abuse,” said lead author David Finkelhor, Ph.D., director of Crimes Against Children Research. Center at the University of New Hampshire, said TODAY. “The predominant image people have of the media is that it’s alien predators stalking children online, and that’s not the whole story. It’s a lot more complicated.”

Finkelhor noted that study authors often tended to be people who knew children offline and began to communicate with them inappropriately. But that doesn’t just apply to adults in children’s lives, he said.

“About a third of the perpetrators are other young people. There is a considerable amount of sexual abuse because children take images or receive images and then use them without consent,” Finkelhor said.

According to the study, girls were more vulnerable than boys, and the most vulnerable age group was between 13 and 17, although teenagers were often the perpetrators as well.

Finkelhor also said the rise of technology has facilitated more cases of sexual abuse than before, especially with the prevalence of cameras.

“Social life and interpersonal interactions of all kinds now have a technological component, so it’s not at all surprising that it’s playing an increasingly important role,” he said. “There may be some facilitation that many people mistakenly thought they could do things online or get away with things online that they couldn’t do in a face-to-face environment. .”

These findings have monumental implications for teens and parents, Finkelhor said. The study notes that education efforts for young people need to become more comprehensive and that there may be benefit in integrating online safety tools into existing educational programs.

“There’s a whole variety of things going on, and we have to recognize the bigger picture,” Finkelhor said. “What we need to understand is that children need a lot more information and training to judge who is trustworthy, what the signs are, if someone asks something inappropriate, how to ‘get out of it and refuse the offers and manipulations they may receive, especially from people they know.

For parents, Finkelhor strongly recommends having an open conversation with children about the risks of online communication and what to do in certain situations.

“It’s very important that parents have conversations with their children about romantic and sexual relationships and their values ​​around it, and offer specific help by suggesting the kinds of things they should be careful of,” he said. declared. “So having candid conversations about things that are happening in the world of romance and sex.”

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