Alberta: Three years ahead or behind?

According to a study reported by CBC, more than one third of Alberta boys aged 13 to 14 have watched pornography on the internet “too many times to count.” This percentage can be loosely compared to the study just published in Pediatrics on US youth which found that about a third of 16-17 year old boys had “wanted exposure” to online porn.

Both the US and Canadian studies found that exposure in girls in the same age categories was 8%. So, similar percentages, just younger age groups.

One possible explanation is that far fewer Canadian youth reported having filtering software on their computers as compared to US youth. In the Canadian study, only 13 per cent of the 8th grade students said they had blocking technology on computers and TVs, whereas over half of the US youth said their computers did.

The authors of both studies cite the need for parent and youth education to stop this behavior.

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A Glimmer of Optimism

A couple of weeks ago, Regina Lynn’s Sex Drive Column from Wired Magazine put a new spin on online predators — that, in some perverse way, there could be a benefit to them.

Of course no one is saying that online solicitation is a good thing. But Lynn argues that all the coverage and publicity online predators are getting can be turned into teachable moments by the media and parents. That watching Dateline and visiting Perverted Justice can alert children to the strategies of online predators and also show them that this sort of behavior from adults is NOT OK. That these people really are bad guys who deserve to be confronted.

She also says that sex offenders, by going online to find their victims, are actually making it easier for us to understand their tactics and motives. My favorite quote:
“If we acknowledge that the internet did not create sexual abuse any more than freeways created reckless drivers, we might be able to analyze better why some adults continue to seek sexual contact with minors — even now that we have the transcripts.”

Although Lynn ends her column by saying that it would be fitting if the internet actually helped put an end to sexual abuse, I am not as optimistic. As she does state, the vast majority of sexual abuse takes place within families or among acquaintences. For the most part, the cases (at least those we are aware of) are strangers reaching out. Are there patterns? Perhaps, but it remains to be seen.

In the meantime, putting stranger solicitation into perspective is still the educated way to go.

The hypocrisy in protecting our youth

Are teens old enough to make their own sexual decisions, or do we need to protect them from their sexual desires and experimentation? In Florida, the answer is apparently neither — they can’t engage in their own sexual choices (however misguided) and when they are caught, they are punished like adults who are responsible for their actions. That is essentially what happened when an underage couple took pictures of themselves engaged in “sexual behaviors” and emailed the pictures to the boyfriend’s email account. How the police ended up with the photos is unknown, as there is no evidence either teen shared the pictures with anyone but themselves. But the end result is that the teens were arrested and charged with “producing, directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child.” In other words, they became kiddie porn creators and possessors.

Their lawyer tried to appeal the decision arguing that their fundamental right to privacy was violated by whoever snooped in their emails. No go, said the appeals court, as minors have no right to privacy in this case. The court voted 2-1 in favor of upholding the conviction. In the dissent, Judge Padovano stated that the law “”was designed to protect children from abuse by others, but it was used in this case to punish a child for her own mistake.”

Kudos to Anne Collier of NetFamily News for addressing this issue.

Sparking Debate

US district court judge Sam Sparks threw out a case filed on behalf of a 13-year-old girl who claims she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-0old man she met on MySpace. The Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, which states that operators of Internet services are not to be considered the publishers of its content was cited in the decision to stop the lawsuit. The CDA is worded such that those in charge of Web 2.0-like sites are not legally liable for the words of those who use their services. In a sense, CDA allows MySpace to clear itself from blame from both the solicitations of the 19 year old as well as the fabrications of the 13-year-old, whom the potential defendant claimed she said she was 18 on her page.

Cyber-Stalking and Teens

A study put out by a Teenage Research Unlimited, a for-profit research and marketing company, and funded by the Liz Claiborne Company found that teens are obsessive about keeping track of their significant others by using technology. Yahoo News reports that survey findings include the statistic that almost one-quarter of teens surveyed who were currently in a relationship stated that they had received hourly text messages or phone calls to check up on them between midnight and 5 a.m (just how late do these kids stay up?). This amounts to 46 teens, based on the fact that 615 13 to 18 year olds were surveyed and 30% of them claimed to be in a relationship at the time (can’t find this currently, but I know I read it USA Today notes that 382 of the sample, 62%, had ever been in a relationship). One out of six (n=30) said they had received messages 10 or more times an hour overnight.

In addition, over one-third of teens who had been in a relationship said a boyfriend or girlfriend had harassed them with text messages. In addition, one out of every four said their significant other had used a cell phone, e-mail, blog or Web chat to insult them (of course, this finding begs the question, what percentage of teens are insulted by their partners overall?).

Yes, I am picking apart the methodology and the sample size, but I am glad this sort of thing is being looked at. And it is all going to a very good cause. Liz Claiborne has launched www.loveisrepect.org as a resource for teens to use if they feel they are in an abusive relationship and want to talk to someone about it 24/7.

Technology can be both the good and bad guy in this case.

Teens do it on purpose, you know

The University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center has finally revealed the other side of the coin. Known for its work in documenting sexual solicitation and unwanted exposure to sexual material online, UNH has published a study in Pediatrics that found that forty-two percent of Internet users aged 10 to 17 surveyed said they had seen online pornography in the past year. Of those, 66 percent said they did not want to view the images and had not sought them out.

Which means, that 34% of them either did want to view the images or did seek them out. That’s a sizable minority. More than one-third of 16- and 17-year-old boys surveyed said outright that they had intentionally visited X-rated sites in the past year.

By the way, online pornography was defined in the study as images of naked people or people having sex. So, we are not automatically talking hard-core here. More like Playboy online.

When I get my hands on the actual survey, I’ll share more. I am curious to know how many girls are intentionally looking up porn. The coverage of the story doesn’t say. Stay tuned.