The stereotypical online predator just might be a myth, according to new research released by the Crimes Against Children Research Center. Of note, there was no evidence that online predators used personal information obtained from social networking websites to stalk or abduct unsuspecting victims. Rather, most underage sex crimes involving online predators (who were arrested) were with adolescents that knew they were communicating with older adults who wanted sex, and willingly went to meet the offenders face-to-face.

The news from a new online predator study is mostly good. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) found only a modest increase in the number of adults arrested for solicitation of actual minors, which could be accounted for by the growth in the number of youth Internet users.

In 2006 there were 615 arrests for soliciting a real child, compared with 508 in 2000 and during that interval the percentage of young people using the Internet grew from 73 percent to 93 percent. The study defined young people as ages 17 and below. (To put that into some kind of perspective, there were more than 25 million 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. in 2006 based on U.S. Census Bureau data as reported on ChildStats.gov.)

The time span covered by this new study coincides with the advent of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, which weren't around in 2000. And considering the numbers, it should help dispel the hysteria about the so-called predator dangers on social-networking sites.

The study did reveal a very significant number of sting operation arrests in which the offender approached an undercover police officer posing as a minor. That's a crime and, says CCRC Director David Finkelhor, these sting operations may have played a major role in helping to reduce the number of actual victims by taking predators off the street and deterring others from even trying.

The study found that during 2006, 87 percent of the arrests involved solicitation of undercover cops, and 13 percent of the cases involved actual minors. To put this into perspective, online predator arrests that year accounted for only 1 percent of all arrests for sex crimes against children.

Source: CNET News

http://news.cnet.com/8301-19518_3-10208135-238.html

To read the report of the National Juvenile Online Victimization study from the Crimes Against Children Research Center, click here.