Every day, i read more articles about child abuse and online sexual predators. They make me sad but they also make me very frustrated because the more we talk about these cases of strangers abusing children, the less we talk about the real perpetrators of child abuse: adults who know children intimately. Today, i ran across a phenomenal article by Peter Reilly entitled The Facts About Online Sex Abuse and Schools. In it, he shares a lot of data about perpetrators, the state of child abuse in general, and the importance of not buying into the fear. Two of the images that he shares capture my unbearable frustration with our obsession with online sexual predators:
Of course, while the hype and paranoia continues, researchers are showing that teens are safer than adults think. Even The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is saying that things are getting better: new data in their longitudinal study of online victimization shows that only 4% of youth were asked for a naked or sexually explicit photo (down from 5 years ago).
Of course, i’m painfully aware that facts are worthless in a fight against paranoia and panic and this makes me tear my hair out. I wish i had the first clue how to stop a moral panic from doing the cultural damage that this panic has inflicted on teens. I talk to teenagers who are afraid of the Internet because they think it’s dangerous. I talk to teenagers whose parents believe everything they hear on Fox and have barred them from the Internet. How can we educate our youth about how to be responsible users of the Internet when we’re flipping out? ::sigh::
I think that Pete Reilly put it well in his article:
When we slice the “less than five percent pie” into these smaller pieces, the risk gets much, much smaller. Of course, statistics aren’t going to matter much if you are the parent of a child who has had an online incident, or the leader of school that has experienced one.
The question is, “Are we going to take a ‘zero risk’ approach to using technology and the tools of the Web?”
We don’t take a “zero risk” approach with our sports programs where the chance of injury, paralysis, and, in rare cases, death, is always present. We don’t take that approach with field trips where students travel to museums and historical sites in locations where they might be touched by crime. We don’t take that approach with recess on our playgrounds, or transporting our kids to and from school.
We can never eliminate all risk; but there are ways to maximize our students’ safety while using these incredibly powerful tools. Each tool needs to be analyzed individually to ascertain its benefits and the specific risks it might present. From there, thoughtful people can find solutions to the student safety issues that may arise.