Online Predation: Agree to Disagree to a Point
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this blog post, I would like you to read the following article written by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes against Children Research Center in the United States:
I support and love articles that use peer-reviewed, statistical research as the base for their opinion/argument, and this is one of those articles. Having said this however, I believe the author is not considering research from other countries, such as ours, when voicing his opinion. As I have learned, working with both the medical and scientific community here in Canada, ”In research, correlation does not always imply causation.”
Before I continue, I must emphasize that I do support several ideas and thoughts that the author penned in the above noted article. What I take issue with, is that it appears that the author did not consider other academic research from other countries, and the article also seems to exclude both anecdotal and empirical research on this important issue, which should also be considered when looking at the bigger picture of online safety.
As I share in several presentations, when it comes to abduction or sexual exploitation in the offline world, the predator will often be someone the youth either knows, loves, or trusts. This is why teaching “stranger danger” does not work, and thus why I teach situational danger. It’s really difficult for youth to understand stranger profiles, BUT it is much easier for youth to understand dangerous situations. Although much of the author’s philosophy can transfer over to the online world, there is an important difference. Online, a predator can often socially engineer, creep, dox, or catfish their intended target first before contact (these are known as confounding variables in statistical research). These techniques are designed to take advantage of increased online access to youth, anonymity, the disinhibition effect and youth curiosity of exploring the internet. When you combine access, anonymity, disinhibition, and curiosity with the underdeveloped youth brain, it creates an online environment very different, and I would argue more advantageous, to sexual predation when compared to the offline world.
In the above noted article, the author stated,
“Research also shows that it is not online anonymity and deception, or the secrecy of electronic communication, that makes these crimes possible. It is the brazenness of adults who take advantage, online and off, of their authority, resources and the vulnerability of marginalized youth who are led to believe that becoming romantically or sexually involved with an adult would be an appealing option. These are the crucial dynamics that need to be addressed more urgently than whether or not the illicit interaction was initiated online.”
The Canadian Center for Child Protection here in Canada, through their research on this issue, reported the opposite in their 2015 report:
“We have seen a concerning rise in teenagers reporting issues surrounding communication with adults posing as teenagers.”
Anecdotally and empirically, as a social media law enforcement investigator, I can also state we in policing have seen a significant increase in these types of crimes being targeted at our youth. I also take issue with the authors statement “…and the vulnerability of marginalized youth.” I acknowledge that marginalized youth can be at greater risk, BUT in my experience, many who are falling prey to these types of online crimes (especially when it comes to “capping”) are not “marginalized” in any way, and they often come from “normalized” and diverse socio-economic family backgrounds.
Again in the above noted article the author notes,
“In spite of our collective intuition, it’s not clear that the Internet has increased the number of such crimes. In the years since everyone, young and old, has flocked to the Internet, sex crimes against youth by adults have decreased significantly, as shown by police reports, child protection investigations and population surveys.”
Once again, I turn to the Canadian Center for Child Protection who report the opposite,
“Children under the age of 12 are particularly vulnerable and the number of reports to the tipline with children in this age range continues to grow at an alarming rate”
As an online social media investigator, I can both anecdotally and empirically echo the findings of the Canadian Center for Child Protection.
In the above noted article the author stated,
“We shouldn’t assume the online environment presents greater risks than other spheres our young people inhabit.”
I’m sorry, but as an adult, parent, and law enforcement professional I must disagree with this statement. There are places in the city where I would never allow a child, depending upon age and maturity, to travel or inhabit unless supervised by an adult; the same goes for the internet. This is a parental “risk within reason” management issue. There are online environments and apps that do increase risk, outside of reason, that youth should not be allowed to step into without parental guidance, thus why I support regulating and monitoring certain apps like “Kik.” Our kids have no right to privacy from parents when online, they can earn that right by showing us parents good digital literacy over time, combined with parental communication and online participation.
I totally agree and applaud the author when he said,
“Teaching them early on about healthy, age-appropriate relationships; helping them practice refusal skills; impulse management and emotion control; and bystander mobilization, making sure their friends help put the brakes on potentially dangerous choices. These skills will ideally come from parents, but schools and other youth-serving organizations should get into the act, because too many vulnerable youths are alienated from the family members who would otherwise help impart these lessons.”
Again, I must emphasize that I do support several ideas and thoughts that the author penned in the above noted article. What I took issue with, is that it appears that the author did not consider other academic research from other countries, and they appear to not want to include both anecdotal and empirical research on this important issue, which I believe should also be considered when looking at the bigger picture of how to keep our kids safer online.
Digital Food For Thought
AKA “The White Hatter” #thewhitehatter