The co-occurrence of Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation victimization and perpetration: associations with psychosocial indicators

Michele L Ybarra, Dorothy L Espelage, Kimberly J Mitchell
Journal of Adolescent Health 2007, 41 (6): S31-41

PURPOSE: Previous research in offline environments suggests that there may be an overlap in bullying and sexual harassment perpetration and victimization; however to what extent this may be true for perpetration and victimization of Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation is unknown.

METHODS: The Growing Up with Media survey is a national cross-sectional online survey of 1,588 youth, 10-15 years old, who have used the Internet at least once in the last 6 months. Cluster analysis was conducted with four scales: Internet harassment perpetration, Internet harassment victimization, unwanted sexual solicitation perpetration, and unwanted sexual solicitation victimization.

RESULTS: A four-cluster solution was identified: youth with little to no involvement (n = 1326; 81.7%); perpetrator-victims of Internet harassment (n = 205; 14.3%); victims of both Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation (n = 45; 3.1%); and perpetrator-victims of Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation (n = 12; .9%). Involvement in Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation was associated with concurrent reports of psychosocial problems including substance use; involvement in offline victimization and perpetration of relational, physical, and sexual aggression; delinquent peers; a propensity to respond to stimuli with anger; poor emotional bond with caregivers; and poor caregiver monitoring as compared with youth with little to no involvement. This was especially true for perpetrator-victims of Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation. Findings were replicated using a frequency-based definition of involvement, suggesting that cluster analysis is useful in identifying subgroups of youth and can be used to guide frequency-based definitions, which are easier to implement across study samples.

CONCLUSIONS: The majority of youth are not frequently involved in Internet harassment or unwanted sexual solicitation either as victims or as perpetrators. Among those who are, however, psychosocial problems are apparent. Perpetrator-victims of Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation have emerged as a particularly important group for adolescent health professionals to be aware of, identify, and treat or refer into services immediately.

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