Monday, November 26, 2007

Assessing the Danger from Online Predators

With the advent of shows like "To Catch A Predator" and lurid media tales of young girls being assaulted by people they've met on MySpace, a wave of internet abuse hysteria seems to be sweeping the nation. The way news programs present it, your child is almost guaranteed to be kidnapped, raped, strangled, stuffed in a garbage bag, and buried in a pine forest if they talk to new people on MySpace, AIM, or in chat rooms. Before you start purchasing personal tracking devices for your children (yes, they are available), it seems prudent to know just what kinds of risks your children are facing. What are the chances that your son or daughter will be abused by someone they meet on the internet?

The following statistics and data were compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children Youth and Families in an annual report on child abuse cases. This data is from 2005 and can be found here: U.S. Abuse Statistics

There were 899,000 reported cases of child maltreatment reported. Of these, 62.8% were victims of neglect, 16.6% were victims of physical abuse, and 9.3% were victims of sexual abuse. The remaining number were victims of psychological or emotional abuse without an occurrence of the three other forms of maltreatment.

79.4% of the perpetrators of the child maltreatment were parents and 6.8% were other relatives of the child. 6% of the perpetrators were an unrelated caregiver to the child and only 7.8% of all perpetrators in this data sample fall under the "other" category which includes internet predators.

Using these percentages and the aggregate data, 70,122 children were victims of maltreatment at the hands of people other than parents, relatives, or unrelated caregivers. Using the abuse statistical percentages, the number of children sexually abused by these "other" people amounts to 6,521. The number of physical abuse occurrences is 11,640.

According to data collected by the U.S. Census bureau in July, 2005, there 73,534,240 people under the age of 18 living in the United States. Since the DHH study used data collected between the 0-17 age range, this statistic can be applied to the numbers we have come up with in order to create a rough estimate for the odds that your child will be physically or sexually abused by someone other than a parent, relative, or unrelated caregiver.

The odds that your child will be sexually abused by someone they don't know: 1 in 11,276
*put into perspective, that's around the same as the odds of someone bowling a perfect 300 or winning an Academy Award

The odds that your child will be physically abused by someone they don't know: 1 in 6,317
*put into perspective, your child is more likely to die from intentional self-harm

Also, take into account that the 7.8% of perpetrators of child maltreatment who the child did not know are not necessarily people they met on the internet. There is no way of knowing from the statistics if the perpetrator was someone the child met online or merely someone they ran into on the way home from school or other situation. It seems likely that with the amount of time it takes an online predator to gain the trust of a child to arrange a meeting, the occurrence of non-internet abuse (chance encounters, kidnappings, etc) is significantly higher. This would affect the odds of your child being abused by an internet predator significantly, as well. In conclusion, it's fairly safe to say that your child is fairly safe from online predators.

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