Context Health care professionals, educators, and others are increasingly called
upon to advise parents and policymakers about risks posed to children by Internet
use. However, little scientific information exists on the experiences of children
Objective To assess the risk factors surrounding online sexual solicitations of
youth and distress due to solicitation.
Design, Setting, and Participants Telephone survey (August 1999–February 2000) of a random sample
of 1501 youth aged 10 through 17 years who were regular Internet users.
Main Outcome Measures Demographic and behavioral characteristics associated with solicitation
risk and distress due to solicitation.
Results Nineteen percent of youth who used the Internet regularly were the targets
of unwanted sexual solicitation in the last year. Girls (P<.001), older teens (P = .005), troubled
youth (P = .004), frequent Internet users (P = .01), chat room participants (P<.001),
and those who communicated online with strangers (P<.001)
were at greater risk. Twenty-five percent of the solicited youth reported
high levels of distress after solicitation incidents. Risk of distress was
more common among the younger youth (P = .005), those
who received aggressive solicitations (the solicitor attempted or made offline
contact) (P = .001), and those who were solicited
on a computer away from their home (P = .001).
Conclusions Many young people who use the Internet encounter unwanted sexual overtures.
Health care professionals, educators, and parents should be prepared to educate
youth about how to respond to online sexual solicitations, including encouraging
youth to disclose and report such encounters and to talk about them.