Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Adults' Sexual Interest in Children and Adolescents Online: A Quasi-Experimental Study

Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Adults' Sexual Interest in Children and Adolescents Online: A Quasi-Experimental Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

In previous studies it has been reported that online sexual or romantic relationships between adults and adolescents are often initiated in chat rooms (Briggs, Simon, & Simonsen, 2011; Malesky, 2007; Mitchell, Finkelhor, & Wolak, 2005, Quayle & Taylor, 2001, Webster et al., 2012). However, little is known about what happens between the adolescent and the adult during the initial online meeting in a chat room, and whether and how the adults suggest continuing the communication. The terms "online solicitation", "online sexual solicitation", and "unwanted online sexual solicitation" has been used by researchers when describing the process of an adult befriending a child or an adolescent for sexual purposes (Baumgartner, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2010; Seto, 2013; Ybarra, Espelage, & Mitchell, 2007). The definitions of these behaviors vary across research groups and the terminology is not always clearly defined. Some researchers use the term "online grooming" to define the manipulative aspect that is often present in online sexual solicitation, for example the adult making the adolescent feel special, and by using techniques to gain the trust of the young before introducing the sexual element (Choo, 2009).

As for the process of online sexual solicitation, it has been found to often be a lengthy one, sometimes stretching over months before the romantic or sexual intention of the adult is revealed (Webster et al., 2012). However, some adults called "hypersexualized groomers" in the European Online Grooming Project (Webster et al., 2012) introduced a sexual topic already during the first online meeting with the adolescent. For the sake of simplicity, the persons discussed within the present study (impersonating children and adolescents) were called "contacts". As mentioned, online sexual solicitation is often a long process. Through the online communication the adult commonly attempts to normalize the intentions of a sexual outcome through psychological manipulation (Marcum, 2007) and persuasion techniques (Shannon, 2008). The sexual outcome motivating the adult's behavior may be online only (e.g., engaging in cybersex), offline sexual contact, or both (Briggs, Simon, & Simonsen, 2011). Briggs, Simon, and Simonsen (2011) separated their sample of convicted chat room sexual offenders on the basis of whether they were "contact driven" (i.e. motivated by sexual contact offline) or "fantasy driven" (i.e. motivated by online sexual contact only).

1.1 Prevalence of Online Sexual Solicitation and Previous Research Methods

In the EU Kids Online study (Livingstone, Haddon, Görzig, & Ólafsson, 2011), with a sample of more than 25,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 9 and 16 years from 25 European countries, 23% of the respondents reported having visited chat rooms during the past month. Older adolescents reported having visited chat rooms more often than younger children and adolescents. Of the participating children aged 9 to 12, 14% reported visiting chat rooms compared with 32% of the 13 to 16-year-olds (Livingstone et al., 2011). Social interaction activities reported by the younger participants compared with older adolescents, more often involved playing games and communicating through avatars. Research results indicate that the prevalence of online sexual solicitation of children and adolescents has decreased in the USA. According to the results from a study with 1500 adolescents in the US (Mitchell, Wolak, & Finkelhor, 2007), 19% of the participants reported that they had been victims of online sexual solicitation in 2000, compared to 9% in 2010 (Jones, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2012). The researchers concluded that the reduced frequency could be due to targeted prevention efforts. However, the researchers proposed that the cases of so-called aggressive solicitations, which always involve offline contact, had not decreased (Jones, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2012). …

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