Washington, Feb 19 : Contrary to popular notion, most Internet sex predators are not adults who target young children by posing as another youth and luring them to meetings, then abducting or forcibly raping them, says a new study.
The study found that most Internet sex offenders target teens and seduce victims into sexual relationships after developing the trust and confidence of victims, so that the teens believe that they are in love.
The study was based on three surveys. Two were telephonic interviews including 3,000 Internet users between 10 years and 17 years while the other involved 612 interviews with federal, state and local law enforcement officials in the United States.
According to the researchers, people who were most vulnerable to online sex offenders had histories of sexual or physical abuse, family problems, and were those who talked online about sex to unknown people.
"Most Internet-initiated sex crimes involve adult men who are open about their interest in sex," said Janis Wolak, lead researcher.
"The offenders use instant messages, e-mail and chat rooms to meet and develop intimate relationships with their victims. In most of the cases, the victims are aware that they are talking online with adults," she added.
The findings also revealed that youth engaged in four or more risky online behaviours were much more likely to report receiving online sexual solicitations.
The online risky behaviours included maintaining buddy lists that included strangers, discussing sex online with people they did not know in person and being rude or nasty online.
"To prevent these crimes, we need accurate information about their true dynamics," said Wolak.
"The things that we hear and fear and the things that actually occur may not be the same. The newness of the environment makes it hard to see where the danger is," she added.
The findings are published in the February/March issue of American Psychologist.