One in Six Children Experience Online Sexual Abuse

Parents need to be wary of not only adults, but kids who abuse.

Working online Victoria Heath

Web surfing. Credit: Victoria Heath, Unsplash.

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes found that 16 percent of young Americans have experienced at least one type of sexual abuse online before reaching the age of 18.

The study conducted at the university's Crimes against Children Research Center and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open is the first comprehensive study to look at multiple forms of child sexual abuse online.

With a sample of over 2,600 young adults between the age of 18 and 28 in the United States, researchers found that 62 percent of the perpetrators of online sexual abuse were acquaintances from their offline life. The majority of the perpetrators were current or former "intimate partners," while almost a third were under age 18.

“The prevailing image of online sexual abuse is that it mostly involves stranger predators who stalk kids with technology,” said UNH professor David Finkelhor, the director of the CCRC.

“But the reality is very diverse. It can include people from their face-to-face life including boyfriends who non-consensually misuse sexual images; adults they know who through social media try to draw them into illegal relationships; and some youth who earn money by selling self-made sexual images online,” he said.

The study counted a variety of these abuses including: online grooming by an adult, revenge porn, sextortion or nonconsensual sexting, or engaging in online commercial sex.

Among girls, the rates of online childhood sexual abuse were particularly high -- 23 percent. The study also counted rates for "transgender or gender fluid children" at 20 percent. One-in-thirteen boys also reported exposure.

“It’s promising that many schools and organizations are eager to provide online safety information to children these days,” said Finkelhor.

“But kids need more than just warnings about interacting with strangers or not giving out personal information. They need advice about how to judge the trustworthiness of friends and acquaintances and how to recognize and refuse inappropriate requests.”

Funding for the research was provided by the National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation agency of the Department of Justice.

Topic tags:
Sexuality Technology Children Law