One of the most disturbing trends in this interconnected generation is the emergence of online sexual predators who prey on the youth. Studies suggest that approximately one in seven children between the ages of 10 and 17 receive a sexual solicitation each year, and only 25% of those children tell a parent (fewer than 10% are reported to law enforcement authorities).4 Readers familiar with the Dateline NBC program “To Catch a Predator” will have a clearer understanding of the disturbing dynamics at play when predators approach potential victims and seek personal contact.
Traditionally we have warned youth about online deception, in which a predator may pose as a teenager in order to gain confidence and trust and build relationship in order to ultimately set up a face-to-face meeting. That trend has now shifted. The large majority of encounters today between predators and victims is consensual, meaning that the minor knows he or she is going to meet an adult for sexual relations. This shift suggests situations more akin to running away than to kidnapping.
Which kids are most at risk to inappropriate online relationships? Kids who are lonely, who have few friends, and who have low self image. Kids who have poor relationships with their parents and immediate family. Kids who are emotionally isolated. And of course, kids who spend a great deal of time online.