Children's unwanted encounters with online sexual material have been on the decline for at least five years, according to a new study. Reports by children and teens of unwanted sexual solicitations and exposure to pornography are both down, the researchers found.
The percentage of those ages 10 to 17 who experienced unwanted exposure to pornography declined from 34 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2010, and the percentage receiving unwanted online sexual requests declined from 13 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2010.
The study, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, looked at data from national surveys conducted in 2000, 2005, and 2010.
"The constant news about Internet dangers may give the impression that all Internet problems have been getting worse for youth, but actually that is not the case," lead author Lisa Jones, a research associate professor of psychology at the center, said in a statement. "The online environment may be improving."
Jones said unwanted sexual solicitations online are down more than 50 percent from 2000, when attention was first drawn to the problem. The researchers noted that unwanted soliciatation or pornography comes from not only adult online predators, but other youth.
"The arrests, the publicity and the education may have tamped down the sexual soliciting online," said study researcher Kimberly Mitchell, another research assistant professor of psychology at the center. "The more-effective safety and screening features incorporated into websites and networks may have helped reduce the unwanted encounters with pornography."
While unwanted sexual encounters declined, reports of online harassment increased to 11 percent in 2010, up 2 percentage points since 2005, according to the study, which was published online Dec. 15 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Online harassment may not have experienced a decline because it began to garner attention more recently than sexual solicitation, the researchers said.
"Hopefully, the new focus on online harassment will produce some of the same improvements in this problem that we have seen in sexual solicitations," Jones said.
Pass it on: Online youth exposure to unwanted sexual solicitations and pornography has declined, although reports of online harassment among children and teens slightly increased.