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Spreading "1 in 5" Number Does More Harm Than Good 382

Regular Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton has some opinions on child safety online and the use of fear mongering. Here are his thoughts. "The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been running online ads for several years saying that "Each year 1 in 5 children is sexually solicited online", a statistic that has been endlessly repeated, including by vendors of blocking software and by politicians who often paraphrase it to say that 1 in 5 children "are approached by online predators". While others have quietly documented the problems with this statistic, lawmakers still bring it out every year in a push for more online regulation (preempted this year only by the topic du jour of cyberbullying), so it's time for anti-censorship organizations to start campaigning more aggressively against the misleading "1 in 5" number. That means two things: framing the debate with more accurate numbers, and holding the parties accountable for disseminating the wrong ones -- and that means naming names, including those of organizations like the NCMEC that are normally beyond reproach." Read below for the rest.
I have no doubt that on balance, the world is a better place because of the NCMEC and what they've done, and God knows how I'd feel about them if they'd helped me find a lost child. But the good things they've done shouldn't be viewed as political capital that they can withdraw against in order to be above criticism for spreading the "1 in 5" meme. The longer they go on implying to parents that there is a 1-in-5 chance their kid will be asked by an adult to meet in person for sex, the more I think it tarnishes their whole legacy. (The NCMEC did not respond to contact requests for this article.)

First, what the 1-in-5 number actually means. It originated with a study done in 2000 by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, which surveyed 1,501 Internet-using youth age 10 through 17. The actual relevant findings of the study were as follows:
  • The 1 in 5 figure was the number that had received at least one instance of unwanted sex talk (including from other teenagers), or sex talk from an adult (whether wanted or not), in the past year.

  • The proportion of respondents who received a sexual flirtation from an adult, followed by a request to talk on the phone or meet in person, was about 1%.

  • The number of survey respondents who actually befriended an adult online and then met the adult in person for sexual purposes, was zero.

Specifically: About 19% of respondents said had received a "sexual solicitation or approach" (my emphasis), and "sexual solicitations and approaches" were defined as: "requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or give personal sexual information that were unwanted or, whether wanted or not, made by an adult". That means any unwanted sex talk, including from other teens, even if limited to one occurrence in the entire previous year, would cause a respondent to be included in the 19% figure (which, when you define it that broadly, actually sounds pretty low). To say that those 1 in 5 minors were "sexually solicited" -- literally, asked for sex -- is simply false.

The actual proportion of respondents who reported that someone made sexual overtures and asked to talk on the phone or meet in person -- what the study called an "aggressive sexual solicitation" -- was 3%, and 34% of those requests were known to have been made by adults. And even this overestimates the proportion of minors who were truly "sexually solicited", because all it means is that an adult started out by talking to them sexually, and then made some request for offline contact, which could have merely been asking for a phone number. So the scenario that comes to mind when hearing that "1 in 5 children is sexually solicited online" -- of being approached sexually by an adult and asked for an in-person meeting -- had actually happened to no more than 1% of respondents, and probably much fewer than that.

And this is just considering the percentage of youth who received solicitations, not taking into account how they responded. Out of 1,501 youth surveyed, none of them reported actually meeting an adult in person for anything that they described as sexual contact. Two teens in the study had "close friendships" with adults that the authors wrote "may have had sexual aspects". One 17-year-old boy had a relationship with a woman in her late twenties that he described as "romantic" but not sexual, and they never met in person. Another 16-year-old girl became close to a man in his thirties, and they met in a public place, but she described the relationship as non-sexual, and she declined to spend the night with him. (While these could still be considered "close calls", it's worth noting that even if the 16- and 17-year-olds had actually had a sexual relationship with their adult friends, that would have in fact been legal in many U.S. states, and in any case it's not what most people think of when they hear about "children" being "sexually solicited online".)

Of course all of this depends on the accuracy of the answers that the youth gave to the surveyors. But the "1 in 5" figure was based on the youths' stated responses as well. People who cite the study can't have their cake and eat it too, taking the "1 in 5" number as accurate but discounting the fact that none of the teens surveyed reported a sexual relationship with an adult they met online.

These were the data that were available in 2000, when the "1 in 5" number started being spread. The authors of the original study followed up with a 2005 report, "Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later", in which the corresponding statistics were:
  • 1 in 7 respondents received unwanted sex talk or sex talk from an adult, at some point in the past year.

  • The proportion of respondents who received a sexual flirtation from an adult, followed by a request to communicate offline, was again about 1-2%. (4% of respondents reported a sexual flirtation plus a request to correspond offline. The new study reported that 39% of all sexual solicitations were made by adults, but did not say what proportion of "aggressive sexual solicitations" -- which included requests for offline contact -- were made by adults.)

  • Out of 1,501 respondents surveyed in 2005, two did report an in-person meeting that led to a sexual crime -- one was a 15-year-old girl who met a 30-year-old man in person and had consensual sex with him, and another was a 16-year-old girl who went to a party with an older male she met online who later tried to rape her. But even these incidents (which were both reported to law enforcement) do not mean that the Internet is a more dangerous environment for youth with regard to interaction with adults. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's own Web site links to a study -- also by one of the authors of the "Online Victimization" report -- which found that when all types of abuse are counted, 20% of females experience some type of sexual victimization before adulthood, compared to 2 out of 750 female survey respondents in the "Online Victimization" study who reported sexual abuse by someone they met online.

The NCMEC has updated their Web site to say that "one in seven youths (10 to 17 years) experience a sexual solicitation or approach while online", although the banner ads still say 1 in 5. But I think the 1-in-7 versus 1-in-5 is hardly worth nit-picking, when the real problem is that the statement "1 in 5 children is sexually solicited online" is written in a way that virtually guarantees it will be mis-heard and passed along as a statement involving "online predators" or "pedophiles". "Authorities Say 1 in 5 Children Has Been Approached By Online Predators" reads the sub-heading of a story on ABC news. "20% of children who use computer chat rooms have been approached over the Internet by a pedophile" says an online safety site sponsored by the Albemarle County government in Virginia. "One in five kids in America are approached by online predators" says a Congressman's press release.

The NCMEC itself never says that 1 in 5 or 1 in 7 children is "approached by a pedophile", merely that they are "sexually solicited online". I still think this is false because that is not the proportion of minors who are literally solicited for sex, but suppose that you expanded "sexual solicitation" to include all sex talk, so that the statement was "technically true". That still misses the point, because the issue shouldn't be seen as a game where sides try to make their statements as alarmist as possible while still being "technically true", like the kid with his petition to ban "dihydrogen monoxide". If you say something that is virtually guaranteed to get passed along as a wrong and alarmist statement about "pedophiles", aren't you at least partly responsible?

Why, then, does the NCMEC do it? Their site does have a "Donate" link, but it's very low-key, and the site generally seems to steer first-time visitors towards actions that they can take with regard to their own children. So I'm not cynical enough to think the "1 in 5" statistic is a campaign to scare up donations; I think they really do believe they are doing good by getting people to believe that number and to take action based on it. The problem is that there is such a thing as too much worrying and too much overprotection. Sites like Facebook are often used to organize parties and events and send out venue changes, just because that's the most efficient way to do it, and if your parents ban you from getting on Facebook, you'll miss out on simple things like that. What good does that do for anybody? Critics of overprotection often say that overly sheltered kids may rebel later on and get themselves in worse trouble, and that's often true, but so what even if they don't? Your quality of life is still worse off if you're the only one in your peer group who can't get updates about your friends' parties. And your parents' quality of life will be worse if they're constantly wringing their hands thinking that there is a 1 in 5 chance their kid will be propositioned online by a pedophile.

So I would urge the NCMEC to reconsider what they're telling people. Regarding the "1 in 5" meme that's already out there, it's spread so far that it's probably too late for the NCMEC to put the genie back into the bottle. But any anti-censorship group participating in a debate about online safety should put the real statistics forward, and since many in the audience will have heard the "1 in 5" figure somewhere, take a minute to knock it down as well. You don't have to commit political suicide by calling out the NCMEC specifically for spreading the "1 in 5" number, but put the right numbers out there.

Unfortunately the subject of child safety is such that wrong information, from any source, is unlikely to be criticized if it's erring on the side of caution, but some memes die faster than others. Microsoft's resource page about "online predators" says that "if you find pornography on the family computer" -- not child porn, but regular pornography -- that could be a warning sign that "your child is the target of an online predator". I think that's a wildly irresponsible thing to be telling parents, but fortunately the meme does not seem to have spread beyond that one page, which probably not one parent in a thousand will ever actually read.

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Spreading "1 in 5" Number Does More Harm Than Good

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  • by Lilith's Heart-shape ( 1224784 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:23AM (#22558444) Homepage
    Bullshit needs to be exposed and countered, even when propagated by well-meaning members of benevolent organizations.
    • by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:34AM (#22558588) Journal
      But the bullshitters know a salient fact: once bullshit is considered "truth" it might as well be, especially when you're talking about law.

      Look at some of the "truths" about marijuana. It causes cancer [] (no, that is of course not a mainstream link), it isn't addictive (unlike coffee or alcohol it has no physical withdrawal symptoms, although it is habituating, like orange juice), and rather than leading to harder drugs the laws against it lead to harder drugs ("Got any weed, man?" "No it's dry. Want some coke?").

      Good luck with that "truth" thing. Ask "Swift Boat" John Kerry how much good "debunking bullshit" is.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        Am I the only one who saw "read 12000 more bytes" and thought in large capital letters: TL;DR?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Good luck with that "truth" thing. Ask "Swift Boat" John Kerry how much good "debunking bullshit" is.
        I don't need to bother with John Kerry. I've known for years that debunking bullshit is a thankless task that makes that of Sisyphus [] look like child's play. It still has to be done.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Malevolyn ( 776946 ) *
        Maybe one day the truth will be out about second hand smoke, which suffers from the same super inflated and misinterpreted statistics as the subject in TFA.
        • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:35PM (#22559648) Homepage
          Yeah, but until then, I'm enjoying not having the taste of smoke mixed in with my food when I visit restaurants. I quite enjoy that peopel aren't allowed to smoke in most indoor places anymore. Regardless of the health effects, it makes your clothes stink. In some places (bingo parlors anyone?) it's actualy quite difficult to breath properly. Even if there is no health effects, I still don't like the feeling of going into a room that's filled with smoke.
          • Well sure, but the trend of banning smoking outside is starting in the western US. San Francisco has already done it, as well as banning smoking inside a smoking club as though tobacco were an illegal substance. I say that because I remember the judge's statement having that slant to it.
            • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @03:44PM (#22562720) Homepage Journal

              The smokers have only themselves to blame for outdoor bans. Indoors, they would never even consider throwing a lit cigarette on the floor and walking away, but outside, it is a frequent cause of forest fires, mostly tossed from car windows. Further, indoors, they would never toss and stomp them, leaving black marks and a pile of white butts, yet we see such egregious littering on America's sidewalks and beaches.

              Simply put, if you don't want to be regulated, you can start by acting responsibly and cleaning up after yourselves. Respect the rights of others if you want them to respect yours. As long as a large percentage of smokers don't care about the cleanliness of their environments, people who do will continue to regulate where they are allowed to make a mess. Simple as that.

        • by ars ( 79600 ) <{moc.lmgsd} {ta} {2dssa}> on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @01:42PM (#22560728) Homepage
          Rigght, it has no affects. I don't care what you believe, but inhaling particles of carbon in the lungs is not good for anyone.

          It doesn't matter is the stats say 0.01% of people are harmed - those people did not have a choice, so any number over 0 is unacceptable. (And I'm quite sure the number is far higher.)

          And please don't repeat nonsense about going someplace else, before the indoor bans there WAS no other place.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Malevolyn ( 776946 ) *
            I didn't say it had no effects, but it doesn't cause nearly 800,000 deaths per year, either. Or whatever the ridiculously huge number is that people throw around. In fact, I don't think doctors even agree that second hand smoke is even a real cancer risk. Maybe if you hang around for 30 years in a closed area that has a lot of heavy smoking going on (like a bar), then it might become a risk. The odds of anyone doing that and not already being a smoker, especially these days, are pretty low.
        • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @02:36PM (#22561500) Homepage
          "super inflated"?

          It's SMOKE.

          You know, that stuff that KILLS you usually.

          In any other context, the overwhelming instinct and instruction
          would be to flee from the source of the smoke and to try and to
          avoid inhaling it. Crawl on the floor and try to get out the

          With anyone with allergies or asthma, the effects are very easy
          to verify visually.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Bullshit needs to be exposed and countered, even when propagated by well-meaning members of benevolent organizations.

      Yep. To paraphrase Ayn Rand: FUD is FUD. (A is A). If we call malicious organizations to the mat for spreading FUD, then we have to call even well-meaning folks on it too. The bottom line is that this "1 in 5" meme is FUD, and it's pulled out like a weapon year after year to get fascist, draconian regulations passed on the Internet. Let's put an end to the madness and launch a "open source" marketing campaign along the lines of 'Get Firefox' --> 'Stop the FUD: Your kids are no worse off on the In

      • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:48AM (#22558760) Homepage

        Your kids are no worse off on the Internet than they are out on the public streets.
        That's why I'm surprised that the numbers quoted are so low. By the definitions they're giving ("...requests to engage in... sexual talk or give personal sexual information..."), almost any sexual discussion could be considered "solicitation". Who went all the way from age 10 to 17 without ever discussing sex? The only caveats in there are the "unwanted or... made by an adult", but some of my peers in high school were technically adults and, being adolescent males, you bet we discussed sex. And, when I was 17, the sexual advances between myself and a couple of fondly remembered older girls were initiated by me. By their definitions, any of these events would qualify as me receiving a "sexual solicitation or approach" if it had happened online instead if in person.

        Solution: Ban real-life contact and restrict our kids to online interaction only.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sm62704 ( 957197 )
        Your kids are no worse off on the Internet than they are out on the public streets.

        Actually they're in far, far more danger from pederasts and other dangers on the streets than they are on the internet. Want to fuck some youngsters? You can get on the internet, or just go to the mall. Preferably dressed in a police uniform, clergy collar, clown suit... or just get a job at a day care center.

        I wrote a journal [] about that last year. It concerns a local man who had been a policeman, clergyman, clown, and day ca
    • by kestasjk ( 933987 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:56AM (#22558854) Homepage
      This is an even bigger issue in Australia, where under the new Labor government the new telecommunications minister is pushing for mandatory internet filters [] to prevent, among a long list of other things, "cyber bullying". I have no idea how they are going to prevent that with a nationwide internet filter. The whole thing is being sold with figures like the one being demolished in this article.

      Online civil libertarians have warned the freedom of the internet is at stake, but Senator Conroy says that is nonsense.

      He says the scheme will better protect children from pornography and violent websites.

      "Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road," he said.

      "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree."

      Senator Conroy says anyone wanting uncensored access to the internet will have to opt out of the service.
      (Rudd-Labor in bold to emphasise that this wasn't a problem under the Liberals, who had a realistic approach based on educating children, which was very successful, rather than trying to make the internet pre-school safe.. To any Aussies reading let's bring the Liberals back next election.)

      Thanks for the well written informative article.
    • by Tribbin ( 565963 )
      "Bullshit needs to be exposed"

      Whatever does it for you buddy.
      • Whatever does it for you buddy.
        Would you rather just let people get away with bullshitting you and others? Do you know what happens when people accept bullshit as a substitute for truth? When they do, they get fun things like war, tyranny, and economic collapse.
    • ... even when propagated by well-meaning members of benevolent organizations
      Good thing that's not the case with the NCMEC.
  • Don't Question It! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FatSean ( 18753 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:29AM (#22558508) Homepage Journal
    You'll become a social outcast. It is OK to lie about statistics because child molestation is so serious that truth and justice can be thrown out to 'get the bad guys'. Ends justify the means type shit. At least, that's how it appears to me. It's enough to make a guy avoid any and all children when in public.
    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:37AM (#22558618) Journal
      And this is the root of the whole problem. The media, governments and children protection agencies and organizations make it seem like if you turn your head away from your kids for five seconds, some sort of murderous raping child predator is going to swoop them up. It makes it sound as if there's a pedophile on every street corner.

      This bullshit has done harm. It's turned us into one of the most cowardly societies in history. We've raised a couple of generations of kids to be scared of their own shadows, and it's all largely manufactured. The TV and the Internet make distant and rare events seem local and common.

      Maybe this organization thinks it's doing a good thing, but it's nothing more than a perveyor of paranoia. It has produced a neurotic society, not a healthy society.
      • by wiggles ( 30088 )
        Maybe you should start buying banner ads that say "FACT: 4 out of 5 children are never exposed to any sexual conversation online" and flip the statistic around on them.
    • I noticed the exact same thing when I tried to discuss computer security for kids recently here on slashdot. Seems like even geek-parents like the slashdot crowd gets so completely irrational so they actually believe there's a high chance for their children to get raped if they use the internet.
    • It's enough to make a guy avoid any and all children when in public.

      What are you doing in public that could result in children?
    • by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:04PM (#22559000)

      It's enough to make a guy avoid any and all children when in public.
      It is. I guess the best solution for everyone is to have kids raised in kibbutz-style farms, that only licensed persons can enter, and for them to have their own Intranet. The western governments want to watch and control everyone all the time. So fine, let them start with the kids -- round 'em up and fence them off.

      Personally I'm all for it. I'm sick of my indulgence in legal adult pleasures being prohibited or interfered with because of the "think of the children" asshats.

      Oh...wait? What? You actually want freedom? Not this kind of totalitarian control?

      Then let me say this loudly and clearly -- your children are YOUR responsibility, not society's. Get them out of everyone else's face.
    • by sm62704 ( 957197 )
      It's enough to make a guy avoid any and all children when in public.

      Mr. Fields? [] I thought you were dead?
    • Children everywhere are far more concerned about the Monster Under the Bed issue. Four out of five children surveyed would gladly get in a van with anyone who can take care of the MUBs. Don't you claim that jumping from the floor to the bed and vice versa, thus avoiding the deadly 'near-bed zone' does anything. The average MUB has tentacles that are FAR longer than any child can jump. And don't try to tell me the 'hiding under the covers so they can't see you' trick works. MUBs can smell fear, everyone know
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You'll see that in just about every flamewar. Sounds like sexual solicitation to me!
  • by JeanBaptiste ( 537955 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:30AM (#22558530)
    we can get that number to 1 out of 4.
  • by John3 ( 85454 ) <> on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:32AM (#22558554) Homepage Journal
    Unfortunately the American people are bombarded with scary warnings all the time. The NCMEC probably sticks with the "1 in 5" meme just to keep their message above the noise from everyone else trying to scare us. Between amber alerts, text warnings to college students [] about potential gunmen, and security campaigns [] to encourage paranoia on mass transit, people are overwhelmed with stuff they should be afraid of. It's too bad that they need to rely on a misleading statistic, but my suspicion is that I would do the same thing if I was the NCMEC marketing director.
    • A public servant who lies to the public should be thrown in prison for several decades.
      • by John3 ( 85454 )
        NCMEC is a private 501c non-profit organization, not a government entity. People who work for them are not public servants. In the grand scheme of things (pun intended) they are better than many other non-profit and religious organizations that siphon money into the pockets of the folks running the organization.

        And a prison term of several decades seems harsh for fudging statistics in order to help a non-profit raise awareness and funds.
        • Perhaps decades would be harsh, how about 4 - 6 with no parole? Non-profits are tax-free (and other perks) because they are being rewarded for helping society. I'm not sure how over-stating the threat of online child predation is really helping society. My cynical mind sees that as a way for the organization to justify its existence. Truth should be our goal in all endeavors.
        • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:47PM (#22559856) Journal
          It would seem to me that convincing the world that an enormous number of children are the victims of predation or attempted predation on the Internet is, in this organization's case, self-serving. Clearly they get money, and the more they can freak people out, the more money they get. It's the same game a lot of non-profits play. "Raising awareness" is usually another way of saying "exercising extreme hyperbole".

          If we gave money based upon actual risk, street and highway safety and heart disease would dwarf anything else by an incredible margin. But these aren't "sexy" ways to die or get killed. They don't raise our bloodpressure, precisely because they are so common. The six o'clock news isn't going to up its viewership by saying "Bob in St. Louis died when he t-boned while on the morning commute" or "Jane in Seattle dropped dead from a heart attack in the shower last night", despite the fact that Jane and Bob are in fact far more representative of premature death than anything else out there.

          I don't think anyone is arguing that we shouldn't be educating our kids on the danger of the Internet. But let's keep things in proportion here. What we really should be teaching them is "Don't always believe what the news media and non-profits tell you, because they have a vested interest in either scaring you or taking your money. Learn to weigh things on their merits, and not just on the hysteria they create."
  • somewhere between false alarmism and false complacency is reality. some people drift too much towards alarmism, some people drift towards complacency. both extremes are wrong

    you can always ferret out such people. the ones who see threats everywhere should be avoided. the ones who see no threat from anything anywhere should be avoided

    but too much on slashdot you see a lot of warnings about dread and hysteria. well, the opposite is to be warned away from too: complacency has just as many dangers about it as hysteria

    child abuse is real. terrorism is real. how much should you be concerned about either? it's obviously low but it's also obviously not zero. avoid those who aren't concerned at all and those who see pedophiles and terrorists around every corner, and you'll do ok in life

    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:43AM (#22558690) Journal

      child abuse is real. terrorism is real. how much should you be concerned about either? it's obviously low but it's also obviously not zero. avoid those who aren't concerned at all and those who see pedophiles and terrorists around every corner, and you'll do ok in life

      The problem is that there are many unlikely dangers. Why are terrorism and pedophiles given top billing when, in fact, more people die every year in car accidents than are ever likely to die in the entire history of species from a terrorist bombing or a murderous pedophile? Breast cancer is far more deadly. Heart disease is far more deadly. Alcoholism and gambling are going to destroy more families. Hell, overindulgence of salt is far more likely to kill than some crazy Egyptian in an airplane cockpit.

      What's lacking in all of this is a sense of proportion. Pedophiles and terrorists are by a wide margin extremely unlikely ways to get killed, injured or psychologically damaged. They aren't even in the same ballpark as most of things I list above.
      • It's about control (Score:3, Insightful)

        by davidwr ( 791652 )
        I can control when and where I drive.

        I cannot control when and where a terrorist will attack.

        I can control if my child will be a victim of incest at my hands. I have some control over whether she will be a victim of a family friend or babysitter, by choosing who she is allowed to be alone with.

        I cannot control if my child will be a victim of a random kidnapping.

        Lack of control causes fear, uncertainty, and doubt and frankly, it scares people beyond all reasonable proportion.
        • if we calculated risk based on actuary tables, we would probably be better for it

          but we don't. and we never will

          therefore, the deeper lesson is that human emotion carries into the equations. and talking about the issues without taking human emotion into account is wishful thinking, and ultimately fruitless thinking, since you will never remove human emotion from the equation, we will never become emotionless machines

          in other words, talking about risks as related to terrorism and pedophilia as something cold
        • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:21PM (#22559358) Journal
          Studies of post traumatic stress disorder in WWII pilots back this up. Fighter pilots, who had the highest mortality rate, had the lowest rate of PTSD because they felt like they had more control. Bomber pilots have a lower rate of death, but feel like they have less control than in a maneuverable fighter, and they had a middling level of PTSD. Bomber crews, the safest group, had the highest rate of PTSD because they felt as if they had no control.
      • so is "context" "control" "damage" "intent" etc.

        in other words, your understanding of the issues seems to be summed up by actuary tables comparing relative risks. this is only part of the concepts in play. i won't be condescending and talk about the other (pretty obvious) concepts, but what i will say is that if statistics were the only way to think about these issues, the world be a lot simpler place. unfortunately, it isn't so simple
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sm62704 ( 957197 )
      child abuse is real. terrorism is real. how much should you be concerned about either? it's obviously low but it's also obviously not zero

      It's close enough to zero that it shouldn't be given a second thought. You'ld know if you read my journals that I'm friends with more hookers (not mentioned in the latest journal, it concerns a violent lunatic) than I am a client of. People have a way of telling me things that they wouldn't tell anyone else. I don't know why, but it just is.

      At any rate, every single one o
  • It's pretty easy to believe that the number is at least 1 in 5 if by solicited they mean they receive erectile dysfunction, enlargement pill, etc. spam. At work we have some non-personal, non-public e-mail addresses that are never used to sign up for any sort of list, and we get these types of mail all the time, along with replica watch, online casino and false diploma offers, plus numerous russian & chinese spam.
  • by MSTCrow5429 ( 642744 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:36AM (#22558608)
    Reminds me of the myth that "1 in 4" women are victims of sexual assault. This sort of willful scare-mongering, and yes, lying, needs to stop. Once people realize groups that allege to be on the side of the victims are untrustworthy and corrupt, they'll transfer that to semi-hostile view of the much smaller number of, but still real, victims.
    • Well, in this case at least I think it's fair to say that it's not the victims or victims groups that are the problem, it's scared parents of kids who may or may not be victims. So we can say that the parents are scared, often clueless about their kids' lives, and a bit neglectful when it comes to monitoring their kids, but we can't reasonably or even emotionally be blaming the kids for their parents' behavior.

      At least here there's a clear difference between the actual victims (kids) and the scare-mongers (
    • Reminds me of the myth that "1 in 4" women are victims of sexual assault.

      Not all "1 in X" statistics are misleading. One reason the "1 in 5" NCMEC misleading statistic is dangerous because when people realize it is misleading, they assume that other similar statistics must necessarily be similarly misleading. The "1 in 4 women are victims of sexual assault" statistic usually comes from one of two CALCASA studies (one in 2000 the other in 2003), both asked if the respondent had been a victim of rape or atte

  • Statistics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by protobion ( 870000 )
    Isn't this a question of misuse of statistics then ? We know about lies and damned lies and...

    I have difficulty deciphering if the article is about how the 1 in 5 number is a statistical misrepresentation when taken into account errors and so forth, or a more general commentary on FUD-spreading by certain organizations and institutions.

    The statistical debate is clear, 1:5 is an inaccurate because it is too close to the indivisible unit of the problem, i.e, one person. It actually introduces an error rate al
    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      Anytime you see social statistics on a sample size of many thousands or hundreds being represented in simple ratio of persons as 1:5 , assume that to be wildly inaccurate.

      Actually, F one-of TAs [], the study actually said:

      "Almost one in five (19 percent)...received an unwanted sexual solicitation in the past year."

      The 1:5 is just an approximation from the study because it sounds better. I'm not defending it as legit, I'm just saying...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:40AM (#22558658)
    I want to know the breakdown for various classes of solicitation and various classes of victims:

    For young children in child-safe areas of the net:
    * 1 out of x gets sent porn
    * 1 out of x gets an explicit proposal: "wanna f***"
    * 1 out of x gets something that is clearly out of line

    Ditto for young teens in young-teen-safe areas, older teens in teen-safe-areas, and most importantly, kids and teens who are in "unsafe" areas where they can be expected to be propositioned.

    Of all of those, I'd want to know how many improper messages and pictures were sent by adults, how many by youth, and how many by children. I would also like the breakdown of whether the person sending the message or image believed he was sending them to a youth or child.

    If some 8 year old girl is hanging out in #quickie-hookup-now on IRC and she gets sent pr0n, who is to blame? I say the parents, not the person who sent it to her. The person who sent it probably thought "she" was a horny 60 year old man pretending to be an 8 year old girl and was going along with it.

    If the 8 year old is 13 I'd blame the parents and maybe the youth, depending on whether the youth knew what she was doing.

    If the "kid" was 15, I'd almost always blame the youth if she were hanging out in adult chat rooms.

    Kids are far more at risk for actual harm from their own family members, neighbors, and family friends than from strangers. If you aren't harming your kids and you minimize the time your kids are alone with other adults, the odds of your kid being sexually abused by an adult go way down.

    Of course, there is still the very real problem of abuse by peers or slightly older children or youth.
  • On in five statistic reports are completely made up.
  • offline comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:47AM (#22558746) Homepage
    I think it would be interesting to do a study using the same methodology for offline activities. For example, what percentage of 10- to 17-year-olds received "requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or give personal sexual information that were unwanted"... at school? It's been a while since I was in high school, but I remember it happening to me... and I was a dweeb. So I bet it'd be pretty high.

    The biggest problem with this survey is that it conflates two very different things: teen-to-teen interaction, and adult-to-teen interaction. Even though they qualify the teen-to-teen stuff they include by saying it has to be "unwanted", there's a fundamental difference between being hit on by that ugly kid in your Lit class, and being hit on by an adult sexual predator.
  • A few years ago I spent some time playing an online multiplayer flash game. The individual games were fairly short and involved 2 or 4 players. Those online could send personal messages to each other to setup games, etc.

    I think there were a lot of young adults there because I would often get requests like "ASL" (age/sex/location) and "wanna cyber" (engage in sex talk).

    All of which could be considered solicitations and could easily be ignored.

    A lot of such traffic could be suppressed if there was a public c
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by davidwr ( 791652 )

      50 year old 300lb woman on medical disability.

      50 year old 300lb MAN on medical disability.
      There, fixed that for you.
  • What difference does it really make if the number is 1 in 5 or 1 in 50? The point of quoting the statistic is to say that the internet is not Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and parents need to take responsibility to protect and monitor their children.

    The fact that the statistic is inaccurate just means that it's no different from most other statistics that get thrown around.
    • Re:Numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:07PM (#22559042)
      Go back to pre-school, find yourself a copy of Aesop's Fables, and read The Shepherd's Boy, and the Wolf [].

      When you've learned the lesson of the story, come back and we can continue this conversation.
    • 18%
    • What difference does it really make if the number is 1 in 5 or 1 in 50? The point of quoting the statistic is to say that the internet is not Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and parents need to take responsibility to protect and monitor their children.

      Because the number is way higher than what people experience IRL. So parents will pressure the Gov't to make the safeness comparable to real life, saying that it's so dangerous that even if they try to protect in monitor their children, they will still get victimi

  • There is a very simple reason for holding on to fallacious statistics like the "1 in 5" here. If you changed that to the real percentage, parents would worry less about it, and feel like their child was safe enough without implementing even the most obvious common-sense measures to combat a rare, but very real threat. These groups probably feel they need to have a scarier number to sufficiently motivate people, so they latched on to a stat that, with enough obfuscation and fudging of the actual information,

    • If you changed that to the real percentage, parents would worry less about it, and feel like their child was safe enough without implementing even the most obvious common-sense measures to combat a rare, but very real threat.

      The thing is, the reason they would feel that way is that it is pretty much true. The real level of the danger of this particular problem is such that special precautions against it are almost certainly unwarranted and a waste of time and effort that could be directed at dealing with ot

  • The "1 in 5" statistic is seriously skewed by the avalanche of propositions Taco receives. Yes Taco, we've seen the notches now stop reporting these incidents please.
  • I would like to Digg this story to spread the word more...
  • From the post: "The actual proportion of respondents who reported that someone made sexual overtures and asked to talk on the phone or meet in person -- what the study called an "aggressive sexual solicitation" -- was 3%, and 34% of those requests were known to have been made by adults. And even this overestimates the proportion of minors who were truly "sexually solicited", because all it means is that an adult started out by talking to them sexually, and then made some request for offline contact, which c
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      So you're making light of an adult "merely" asking a minor for a phone number? While it's fair game to question statistical numbers being touted by politicians and child advocacy groups, like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, because you're concerned it might affect your ability to freely surf the net, it's irresponsible to paint sexual solicitation of children as no big deal. Personally, I'm more than willing to consider giving up some freedom to protect others.

      Not having your kids in

  • 98% of statistics are made up on the spot?
  • The other four out of five recommend sugarless gum.
  • I do have a problem with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in that it intentionally confuses those two categories.

    When we hear all these scare statistics about the number of "Missing and Exploited" children, and see all the posters at such places as Wal-Mart, the term basically scares the public into thinking that huge numbers of children are being kidnapped for rape.

    If you actually read the profiles under the pictures, you see that many of the children have the same last name as the

  • .. when it comes to child safety.

    The bad thing is used everywhere in the media; namely that it is easier for a sexual predator to get in touch with children without being seen.

    The good thing is hardly ever mention in the media; namely that the online world is just that: the online world. In order to molest the child, the sexual predator has to move the interaction over to the real world. So essentially, there is a buffer between the child and the pedophile that the pedophile has to overcome and if the child
  • You dare to question the people who are just looking out for the children? Why, I bet you're a child molester yourself. Why else would you be defending them, huh? We all know that people who keep shouting about "privacy" are really just using it as an excuse to hide their evil, awful, perverted ways.

    (Also, they're all terrorists who hate America.)
  • WoW! 1 in 5? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tygt ( 792974 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @12:48PM (#22559870)
    I consider World of Warcraft to be "on-line", and I personally have witnessed "on-line solicitation" of youths (age between 10 and 17 as per the article), as I've been in groups which I know for a fact include youths when "A/S/L hey wanna get together" has come up.

    Yes, my children, and when we discussed it (after kicking the offender from the group) they assured me that while it was a practically daily experience at high school, it rarely occurred on-line, and they never gave the time of day in either situation.

    Obviously then, my kids should count in that "1 in 5". However, I still think it's alarmist - kids have been solicited forever, and educating them about how to handle such situations without fearmongering is the correct course of action.

  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @02:34PM (#22561470)
    The truth about how much the "Save Our Children" folks will lie to garner sympathy, donations, fame, etc., hit me hard almost three decades ago.

    The Phil Donahue show interviewed a guy from the major child protection outfit of the day. (I believe, though I'm not sure, that it was the NCMEC, back before they obtained quasi-governmental, beyond-reproach status.) This was back when the first scares about "your children are being targeted by slavers/devil worshippers/perverts" were first gearing up. The rep plainly and unambiguously said that 50,000 children a year go missing.


    The entire audience was nodding their heads and agreeing about how this was a terrible problem. Something, however, bothered me about that number. Then I remembered - I had done a report in school about casualties during the Vietnam war. We had about 50,000 casualties during the time period I looked at for the report.

    Everyone I knew had some family member who was killed or injured in Vietnam. NOBODY known to me had a family member who was a "missing child." Something was wrong here. If 50,000 children a year went missing, there wouldn't have been anyone in that audience; they would have all been out looking for their children.

    I actually did some investigating. The stats they were quoting resulted from adding up every possible definition of "missing child." They included children who were being cared for by the (legally) non-custodial parent. They included every runaway reported, even if the runaway child returned 10 minutes after the police were called. They included throwaways. They included every damn thing they could possibly count, including certain "projections" for any numbers they thought unreported. In other words, they weren't even terribly circumspect about the fact they were exaggerating like crazy.

    Then I did some research on what we think of when we think of "missing child" - a little kid, snatched by a stranger for nefarious purposes. There wasn't a lot of data. The only organization that had done much research was the Illinois state police. They concluded that by-stranger abductions of pre-high school kids happened at a rate of, roughly, 50 to 150 times a year in the U.S. Those numbers had been stable for some time and, afaik, remain so today.

    Yes, some kids to get snatched, raped, and murdered. But there are so few that it's impossible to protect against it since the circumstances are so statistically anomalous that they can't be predicted.

    We would actually raise healthier, happier, more social and caring children if we'd teach them to strike up conversations with and be trusting of strangers at every opportunity. Strangers are so statistically unlikely to be a threat that they can be entirely discounted as such. Those 100 or so kids are going to cross paths with a truly evil person and die every year, anyway; there's no need to instill fear in all the rest to protect against something that can't really be stopped.

    You wanna really protect little kids against real sexual abuse instead of wasting resources protecting them against some kid on the playground who steals a kiss or a boogeyman so rare as to be practically nonexistent? There are lots of guys who are a little dodgy but not a real threat; they would never dream of snatching a kid off the street. Put them in the house with a constantly available little girl or boy, however, and temptation starts to rise. If you really want to protect kids, here's what you do: Don't let Mom's new boyfriend move in. Even more generally - don't trust family members just because they're family members; they're the ones who will betray that trust.

    That, however, isn't neat and easy like scaring parents because their kids are using the internet. That would actually require morality, hard work, a principled approach to the way people live their lives. That's way too much work. It'll never happen. Better to just go back to scaremongering.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan