One in 25 Youth Internet Users are Requested to Send Sexual Pictures of Themselves

By Elizabeth O’Brien

DURHAM, New Hampshire, Friday, July 20, 2007 ( - A national study, recently release by the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC), states that one in 25 youth who use the internet are requested to send sexual images of themselves.

Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the study is entitled "Online Requests for Sexual Pictures from Youth: Risk Factors and Incident Characteristics."  The study made a phone survey of 1,500 Internet users aged 10 to 17 across the United States for one year.

The study stems from a larger study by Research Center in 2000. The purpose of this first study was to verify media reports about the numbers of children exposed to Internet pornography and online sexual harassment. The second study was carried out in order to compare notes with the first and see if there had been any changes in the numbers.

Dr. Kimberly Mitchell, lead author of the study told that the number of sexual solicitations (defined as unwanted "requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or to give personal sexual information" or "whether wanted or not, made by an adult") decreased from 19% to 13% since the 2000 study. During the intervening years, she noted, a lot of effort was expended in increasing towards Internet safety.

The study showed an increase, however, from 6% to 9% in online harassment, defined as "threats or other offensive behavior".

Unwanted exposure to pornography also increased during the interim.

The study also notes, "Although a true estimate of the extent of child pornography available on the Internet is difficult to determine, one national study of Internet sex crimes against minors revealed an estimated 1,713 arrests involving the possession of child pornography in the United States in the year after July 1, 2000."

The CCRC study also indicated that girls, particularly "female black youth", have a higher level of risk. Moreover, incidents were more likely to occur when the child received sexual images from someone older than 18 who contacted them offline.

"I think the big thing we’re trying to tell people," Mitchell told, "is that we need to start talking to kids more directly rather than just going to the parents. We find that a small group of kids-kids with high conflict with their parents or who are sexually abused-are consistently more likely to report these on-line incidents. We think we need to find more creative ways to reach this higher risk population."

Commenting on the age of the study group, Mitchell stated, "It makes sense because the Internet is so part of kids’ lives." She also described them as being curious and interested in romance and relationships at that stage. She added, however, "We think that overall most kids are pretty savvy when it comes to the Internet."

The study further underlines this point, saying that most kids have a "fairly sophisticated understanding of the social complexities of the Internet…by the time they reach early adolescence. However, if only a small percentage cooperate, considering such requests flattering, glamorous, adventuresome, or testament of their love and devotion, this could be a major contribution to the production of illegal material."

Mitchell also stated in a recent press release, "We think most children don’t fully understand the stakes here. They may just see it as rudeness or sometimes even flattery. But the making and sending of these pictures, even by youth themselves, constitutes the production and transmission of child pornography, a serious felony offense."

The study emphasized the importance of educating children about the "criminal vulnerability" of getting involved in any kind of Internet sexual involvement. Concluding on a hopeful note, it stated that out of the 65 sample young people who received requests for sexual images, only one responded. Nevertheless, even this seemingly small response frequency, if multiplied by the millions of young internet users, could mean that thousands of youths do respond to solicitations for sexual images.

See Related coverage:

U.S. Supreme Court Rules 5-4 against Protecting Children from Internet Porn


Federal Judge Strikes Down Law Protecting Children from Porn as Violating Free Speech

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