With nearly half of all of U.S. children and adolescents reporting that they are online on a near-constant basis, it is more important than ever to be aware of the potential risks of growing up in a virtual world. Despite the many positives brought forward by internet access, it also opens the opportunity of placing children and adolescents at risk for harmful experiences, including online sexual solicitation. A recent article published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care discussed a study describing the online sexual solicitation behaviors targeting children and adolescents who were later assessed for concerns of sexual abuse.
When children are granted unlimited and/or unmonitored access to the internet, they can communicate with almost anyone, which could open children up to contact with sexual predators. Online communication’s privacy and anonymity may enable young people to feel more comfortable talking about topics, such as sex, compared to face-to-face communication, especially when they believe they are communicating with peers.
Online sexual solicitation occurs when a child or adolescent is asked to engage in sexual activities online. According to the article, the exact number of victims of online sexual solicitation is challenging to pinpoint. Data suggests that for children aged 10 to 14, roughly 10%-14% have experienced sexual solicitation, with 3% then making offline contact with their online perpetrator. During this age range, children undergo many different developmental changes. When coupled with the influence of mainstream media, these factors can lead to sexually risky behavior.
This study found that out of 325 children and adolescents, 27% reported speaking to someone online whom they had not previously met in person. Nearly 20% reported online sexual solicitation with strangers not previously met offline. This included sending or receiving sexual photographs or videos, talking about sex or engaging in sexual acts online.
When working with patient families, it is imperative to encourage parents to talk with their children about online sexual solicitation and the possible dangers associated with this behavior. “Children and teens are at risk for online sexual solicitation, and it is crucial that pediatric health care providers appropriately assess and intervene,” said Gail Hornor, DNP, CPNP, SANE-P co-author of this article.
The study’s authors suggest that pediatric health care providers can continue to be a voice in their communities by advocating for schools to create and provide comprehensive sexual education programs. These programs should include topics such as the principles of healthy relationships and an internet literacy portion that would clearly discuss online pornography, relationships, and sexual solicitation examples and risks. In addition, by pushing for stricter internet regulations, there is a better chance to protect children and adolescents from these occurrences. Online sexual solicitation is a severe pediatric health care problem that can lead to significant issues for victims.
The article, “Online Sexual Solicitation of Children and Adolescents in a High-Risk Population,” was published in the September/October edition of the Journal of Pediatric Health Care and can be accessed here.
Oct. 18, 2022