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New Study Could Impact Social Policy
By: Layne Winklebleck (Free Speech Coalition)
Posted: 8/29/2006

United Kingdom – A study to be published in the American Journal of Family Therapy looked at the online chatroom activities of 1,300 pre-teen girls ages 8 to 13 in several countries, including the U.K., U.S., Australia and Canada, over a five-year period. Researchers contacted the girls anonymously through a major chat site, and recorded their online conversations, some lasting several hours.  We could not find the study posted online. However, a news account in The Independent paints a picture of the Internet chatroom activities of the “Tweens” as  "filled with sexual behavior of one sort or another,” and it concludes that almost all parents are "virtually clueless" about what their daughters are up to.

Chris Cloke, the head of child protection awareness at the U.K. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said the results reflected other research that has shown young girls are increasingly exposed to sexual images and language. "We are very concerned that young children are living in an ever more sexual environment," he said. "They face pressure from the media, from adverts and increasingly from the internet. All this can make children more sexually aware and can lead them to sexual activity for which they are not ready."

The Independent news account did not venture into questions of how the research sample was formed, whether the girls knew their chats were being recorded for posterity, or whether there was an effort to establish validity between the chatroom discussions and actual sexual experiences. We will have to wait for the publication of the study to find out how it was done.

From an entirely different source comes some information that might shed light on young girls, sex and the Internet. We found it interesting that the controversial, (supposedly anonymous) America Online Web-search data from 650,000 customers, revealed 50,549 inquires for nude pictures, and perhaps for the first time in Internet history, the person most requested wasn’t Pamela Anderson. In fact, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, it wasn’t even a woman topping nude searches, but Peter Wentz, the boyish Bassist, back-up vocalist and primary lyricist of the Chicago-based band Fall Out Boy. In March — which was one of the three months covered by the AOL data — somebody (according to Wentz) hacked nude and sexually explicit photos off his Sidekick and sent them into cyberspace. It seems probable that young girls — how young, who can say? — would have contributed to the high volume of Web-searches for those images.

All this comes, of course, as Congress considers legislation in response to a perceived growing danger of social-networking sites such as MySpace.com. H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) which recently passed in the House by a vote of 410 to 15, requires, with few exemptions, that facilities receiving federal aid block minors from accessing commercial social-networking sites and chat rooms, where they might encounter adults seeking sexual contact. (See X-Press Report, “DOPA Bill Passes House — Goes to Senate,” 8/4/06).


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