Risk factors for and impact of online sexual solicitation of youth

K J Mitchell, D Finkelhor, J Wolak
JAMA 2001 June 20, 285 (23): 3011-4

CONTEXT: Health care professionals, educators, and others are increasingly called upon to advise parents and policymakers about risks posed to children by Internet use. However, little scientific information exists on the experiences of children online.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the risk factors surrounding online sexual solicitations of youth and distress due to solicitation.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Telephone survey (August 1999-February 2000) of a random sample of 1501 youth aged 10 through 17 years who were regular Internet users.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Demographic and behavioral characteristics associated with solicitation risk and distress due to solicitation.

RESULTS: Nineteen percent of youth who used the Internet regularly were the targets of unwanted sexual solicitation in the last year. Girls (P<.001), older teens (P =.005), troubled youth (P =.004), frequent Internet users (P =.01), chat room participants (P<.001), and those who communicated online with strangers (P<.001) were at greater risk. Twenty-five percent of the solicited youth reported high levels of distress after solicitation incidents. Risk of distress was more common among the younger youth (P =.005), those who received aggressive solicitations (the solicitor attempted or made offline contact) (P =.001), and those who were solicited on a computer away from their home (P =.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Many young people who use the Internet encounter unwanted sexual overtures. Health care professionals, educators, and parents should be prepared to educate youth about how to respond to online sexual solicitations, including encouraging youth to disclose and report such encounters and to talk about them.

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