( dpa )- The danger of online child sex predators is exaggerated and only a small proportion of sex crimes against children have any link to the internet, a leading research group said Tuesday.
The Crimes against Children Research Center conducted three nationwide surveys and concluded that many parental fears about online activity are unjustified, according to the report published in the journal American Psychologist.
"Internet-related sex crimes are a pretty small proportion of sex crimes that adolescents suffer," said Janis Wolak, the study's lead author. "There's been some overreaction to the new technology, especially when it comes to the danger that strangers represent."
"To prevent these crimes, we need accurate information about their true dynamics," said Wolak. "The things that we hear and fear and the things that actually occur may not be the same. The newness of the environment makes it hard to see where the danger is."
The study outlined several widespread beliefs that were unjustified by the facts, for instance that internet predators are driving up child sex crime rates. According to Justice Department figures, sex assaults on teens fell 52 per cent from 1993 to 2005, and "the internet may not be as risky as a lot of other things that parents do without concern, such as driving kids to the mall and leaving them there for two hours," Wolak said.
The study also found that most internet-linked offenses are essentially statutory rape: non-forced sex crimes against minors too young to consent to sexual relationships with adults. Most victims meet online offenders face-to-face and go to those meetings expecting to engage in sex. Nearly three-quarters have sex with partners they met on the internet more than once, the report said.
The study also found that only 5 per cent of predators posed as teens online and that most victims were youths with histories of sexual abuse, sexual orientation concerns and patterns of off- and online risk-taking.
"Most internet-initiated sex crimes involve adult men who are open about their interest in sex," Wolak said. "The offenders use instant messages, e-mail and chat rooms to meet and develop intimate relationships with their victims. In most of the cases, the victims are aware that they are talking online with adults."