By EMILY RAMSEY
On Nov 5, Dr. David Finkelhor spoke at the OU-Tulsa Schusterman Center regarding “Myths and Realities About Internet Crimes Against Children.”
Finkelhor is the director of Crimes Against Children Research Center, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory, and professor of sociology and university professor at the University of New Hampshire. He began to study the problems of child victimization, child maltreatment and family violence in 1977.
In 2008, he published the book “Childhood Victimization: Violence, Crime and Abuse in the Lives of Young People.”
Greater Tulsa Reporter: What misconceptions verses realities have you found in your research involving the Internet with regard to sexual predators?
David Finkelhor: Over the years, our society has experienced this almost hysteria on the dangers of the Internet particularly for young children. However, instead of the danger being that of pedophiles who are targeting young children, the reality is that adolescents are more often the target. Usually, young children are more well supervised and not using the Internet in a way that makes them a target.
Research shows that the majority of online predators develop relationships with vulnerable teenagers, with predators often being individuals who are known to the adolescent, such as teachers, coaches, neighbors. The victims are usually troubled teenagers in need of friendship, guidance and sympathetic adults.
Research shows that predators usually do not deceive their victims. Few lie about being a youth or hide their sexual intentions. In reality, victims often meet their predators for sex willingly and repeatedly, and many claim to be “in love.”
: Are there other misconceptions that you found through your research?
DF: The subject of bullying: while cyberbullying may be on the rise, the overall percentage of adolescent face-to-face bullying or victimization is on the decline, with a 74 percent decrease from 1992-2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Research shows that cyberbullying mostly occurs in conjunction with face-to-face bullying and is not a separate problem.
: Thanks to your research, how do you feel about the way the Internet affects our youth?
DF: The notion that the Internet and technology are corrupting our youth is not supported by today’s research. We are seeing that kids are more virtuous today and better protected than ever before. We are seeing an overall decline in sex crimes, bullying and risky behavior.
Such things as binge drinking and suicide are declining.
In addition, the Internet benefits law enforcement agents by bringing hidden crimes to light more quickly; helping to catch offenders earlier in their offending history; providing high quality evidence that results in high conviction rates; and bringing to light bullying and abuse situations.
: How should future education about the Internet and online predators be handled so as to avoid these types of misconceptions?
DF: Aim prevention efforts, instead of solely at parents, at adolescents in middle school and high school. Acknowledge teenagers’ interest in sex. Educate them about sexual activities such as child pornography, sexual crimes and transmission of sexual photos.
Educate youth on cyberbullying and when joking and teasing turns into cyberbullying.
: What changes would you like to see occur based on these findings?
DF: Don’t allow Internet abuse concerns to eclipse or distract from the general campaign against child molesting and child abuse. Rather than focusing solely on Internet safety, we need to incorporate Internet safety into broader evidence-based education programs on personal safety, sex education, socio-emotional education and decision making. Our youth need to be educated on generic skills that improve both their online and offline decision making, health and safety.