Saturday, January 24, 2009

On the Media does teens and sex online

WNYC's On the Media -- one of my favorite radio programs -- has two very interesting stories this week about teens, sex, the Internet, and public policy.

The first story reports on the findings of a government-sponsored task force on the risks teens face online, which defies the expectations of some. Convened at the behest of 49 state attorneys general, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force released its final report this month. From the executive summary:
[Research based on cases brought to the attention of law enforcement] found that cases typically involved post-pubescent youth who were aware that they were meeting an adult male for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity. ... Youth report sexual solicitation of minors by minors more frequently, but these incidents, too, are understudied, underreported to law enforcement, and not part of most conversations about online safety.
And from the body of the report:
Sexual solicitation and predation are serious concerns, but the image presented by
the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an
accurate picture of the nature of the majority of sexual solicitations and Internet-initiated offline encounters; this inaccuracy leads to major risks in this area being ignored. Of particular concern are the sexual solicitations between minors and the frequency with which online-initiated sexual contact resembles statutory rape rather than other models of abuse.
On the subject of online pornography:
The Internet increases the availability of harmful, problematic and illegal content, but does not always increase minors’ exposure. Unwanted exposure to pornography does occur online, but those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out, such as older male minors.
The main conclusions from the report: "the risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline, and that as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems." The report specifically notes that bullying and harassment, "most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline." It also says that on all fronts, the kids most at risk online are the one most at risk offline: "The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies. "

In other words, stop the panic. Crime can happen anywhere, and parents should be aware of what their kids are up to, but the Internet is not going to eat your children.

The second OTM story visits a subject I've blogged about before: the creation of "child" pornography by teens, and the dubious use of child pornography laws to prosecute said teens.

The story begins by noting the recent National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy/Cosmo Girl Sex & Tech Survey, which found that 22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys have posted or transmitted nude or "semi-nude" pictures of themselves online. Twice as many have sent "sexually suggestive" messages by txt, IM or email. Most are sending this stuff to a boyfriend, girlfriend or someone they want to get with, but 15% are sending DIY smut to people they only know online. Though a notable minority of teen girls say they "felt pressured" to make and share such content, most teens regardless of gender said they were just having fun. All interesting results, but like the reporter from OTM, I find none of this particularly surprising.

OTM goes on to note that many of these online shenanigans constitute federal and state crimes, and that prosecutions of minors for child pornography involving themselves and their peers are "piling up." The latest case involves three high school girls from a small town near Pittsburgh who have been charged for sending nude pictures on their cell phones, and three boys charged with "possession of child pornography" for receiving them. OTM interviews an attorney from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who agrees with the reporter that while teens' amateur exploits can have harmful effects, prosecuting them can cause far more harm - particularly in light of the draconian sentences that can accompany child porn convictions. Instead, says the NCMEC attorney: "[Y]ou deter this type of conduct with education, and not with criminal prosecution."

1 comment:

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