1 in 4 Students Sexually Harassed Online, Study Claims


Researchers at Michigan State University say that one in four children are sexually harassed online, revealing that children are often under pressure from their friends to discuss sexual topics online despite not wanting to. Students with low self-control and girls are more likely to be victims of online sexual harassment, the study says.

In total, 439 middle- and high-school students participated in the study that revealed that apart from strangers, people closest to children can engage in sexually harassing behavior with them. The study is among the first to point out that online sexual harassment doesn’t always originate from strangers, The IBT Times says.

Thomas J. Holt, the Michigan State criminal justice professor leading the study, said that 24 percent of the study participants experienced online sexual harassment from their friends or peers. The criminal justice academic said his research doesn’t imply that parents should worry only about their children’s friends and peers:

“This is not to downplay the danger of pedophiles acting online, but it does draw attention to the potential threat of child sexual victimization by the people our kids are closest to, the people they spend the greatest amount of time with online.”

The research titled “Identifying Predators of Unwanted Online Sexual Conversations Among Youth Using Low Self-Control and Routine Activity Framework” was published in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. It’s among the first studies to look into the act of coercing children to engage in sexual conversation as a form of sexual harassment, NDTV says.

The review showed that girls and students with low self-control were two groups more likely to experience online sexual victimization. Children who view pornography and have friends engaging others in sexual discussions are also more likely to be sexually harassed online, the researchers found.

Holt said that practices like giving access to computers only in common spaces at home will not prevent such behavior in children.

As he says, preventing sexual harassment online is not something that can be ‘technologically solved’, emphasizing that parents need to engage in sincere conversation with their children in order to prevent or resolve online sexual harassment issues that might come up.

“[P]arents need to have that talk with their kids about what they are doing online and what people are asking them to do online. That kind of open dialogue is one of the best things they can do to minimise the risk,” Psych Central reports Holt as saying.

Holt urges parents to help their children understand the risks associated with the use of the Internet and social networks, Medical Daily says. Making students aware of the hidden risks and dangers of online activity will help them protect themselves against online sexual harassment that can originate by someone close to them or a stranger.

The study participants were middle- and high-school students in Kentucky, and the researchers used a low self-control and routine activity framework for the study’s purposes.