According to a story in the British newspaper “The Independent,” a new research study conducted by Dr. Joan Atwood reveals that 10% of girls between the ages of 8-13 had been asked intimate sexual questions in chatrooms and more than a third have had sexually explicit messages, photos and/or videos on their phones.
The study involved youth from Britain, Canada, Australia, and the US who were recruited in chatrooms. It appears to be the first study that asks younger girls about sex-related activities online.
Two things about this study come to mind. First, it was not conducted in the US. This is most likely because the US is not willing to consider the fact that children not even into their teens are being exposed to sexual messages to the extent that they are.
Second, playing off this theme of denial, this story was not reported in any US-based publication that I am aware of (I subscibe to several news alerts and like to think I scan the Internet extensively, actively seeking this information). It appears that no news is good news.
We can only hope that our country will be able to investigate issues such as these from a national perspective. There is no use pretending young people are not exposed to sexual material — there is no pretending that young people are not the creators of this sexual material. But how will we know what is really going on if we are not allowed to ask?
According to various news sources including Yahoo News there is a provision to a House appropriations bill floating around Congress that, if it passes, would require all web sites with “sexually explicit ‘depictions'” to have a warning label. The reasoning is that if these sites have warning labels, then it would be easier for filtering software to block access to all such sites.
Like obscenity, there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition of what a “sexually explicit depiction” actually is. But one thing is for sure: this web site would have a warning label. So would YouTube, MySpace, and all other diary-based URLs. So would all photo sites, unless they were carefully monitored for pictures of bachelor(ette) parties and such. Other sites with warning labels would include TeenWire and Sex Etc. and, oh yeah, the Center for Disease Control.
Does anyone in Congress see this slippery slope?
Last week the House passed the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) by a lopsided vote of 410-15. As a politician, how can you say you are against deleting online predators? I would love to hear the dissenters on that one. They are brave souls!
Although well-intentioned I’m sure, the bill was not well conceived and doesn’t solve the problem it addresses. Larry Magid in his editorial eloquently points out the flaws of this bill.
DOPA attempts to get rid of online predators by requiring “recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.” Putting the onus on schools and libraries to protect minors? How, do tell, does this get rid of predators? All this does is drive the problem further underground as teens will have to be more secretive of their online use. And, as Magid points out, prevents social networking sites from being a positive teaching tool.
It would take a miracle, but let’s hope each and every Senator sees the fundamental flaws in this bill before raising his or her hand to say “aye.”