Study finds children plagued by unwanted exposure to porn

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Peddlers of online pornography are stalking children with images of naked people and people having sex, according to a new study that found an increased number of children and teenagers being exposed to unsolicited pornography on the Internet.

The study, which appeared in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics, found that 42 percent of Internet users ages 10 to 17 said they had seen pornography online during the past year, with 66 percent of those saying they had not sought out the images.

Overall, 34 percent of minors responding to a telephone survey of 1,500 Internet users ages 10 to 17 said they had experienced unwanted exposure to online pornography.

"More research concerning the potential impact of Internet pornography on youth is warranted, given the high rate of exposure, the fact that much exposure is unwanted, and the fact that youth with certain vulnerabilities, such as depression, interpersonal victimization, and delinquent tendencies, have more exposure," the journal noted.

Teens report that such images "pop up all the time" when they're on the Internet, especially when they use file-sharing programs to download non-pornographic images, when they're talking online with friends, when they visit chat rooms and when they play games online, the Associated Press said Feb. 5.

"It's so common now, who hasn't seen something like that?" Emily Duhovny, a 17-year-old, told AP. She added that "more than anything, it's just annoying."

Sharon Hirsch, a University of Chicago psychiatrist, told AP that exposure to online pornography could lead children to earlier sexual activity.

"They're seeing things that they're not really emotionally prepared to see yet, which can cause trauma to them," she said.

Researchers said filtering and blocking software is effective to an extent, but peddlers are finding new ways to navigate around such prevention methods.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said parents need to step up their efforts to protect their children from unwanted sexual exposure.

"The devil is attacking Christians of all ages through sex," Land said Feb 6. "The Bible says that parents have the responsibility to rear their children in the knowledge and wisdom of the Lord. That responsibility includes placing filters on every computer in the house and then monitoring your children's Internet activity. You can't depend on a filter to catch everything, so you need to keep your eyes and ears open."

Some action steps for parents provided by the commission include having a reliable content filter on the family's Internet connection and avoiding the placement of a computer with Internet access in a child's room unless provisions to limit surfing have been established.

The commission also encourages parents to limit total media viewing, given that children ages 8 to 18 watch an average of three hours of television per day in addition to playing video games and surfing the Internet.

Also, parents should raise their children with an understanding that the world is full of temptation, but purity is a worthwhile and achievable goal, the commission resources said. Threats posed by new technology in handheld media devices such as cell phones and iPods should get parental attention too, as such devices offer video capabilities.


A serious threat
Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, an Internet safety resource and advocacy organization, also offers a variety of tips and information on the group's Web site and in her book, "Kids Online: Protecting Your Children In Cyberspace."

"Offline, pedophiles typically operate in isolation," she writes on her Web site. "Never before have pedophiles had the opportunity to communicate so freely and directly with each other as they do online. Their communication on the Internet provides validation, or virtual validation, for their behavior. They share their conquests, real and imagined. They discuss ways to contact and lure children online and exchange tips on seduction techniques. They are using the technology of the Internet to train and encourage each other to act out sexually with children. The Internet also serves as a tool for predators to exchange tips on the avoidance of law enforcement detection."

Parents, she said, can minimize the danger by taking an active role in their child's Internet experience.

"You can implement responsible safeguards, ensuring that your children will have safe, educational, and entertaining online experiences. Educate yourself about cyberspace. Raise your awareness of the benefits as well as the risks of going online. Take advantage of the safety tips and information on software tools and technology in these pages. Just by reading Kids Online: Protecting Your Children In Cyberspace, you have accepted the challenge of making your child's trek in cyberspace a safe experience."

For more information, visit protectkids.com.


Rules of the road: Top 10 things to teach your children to keep them safe online:
Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, is an internationally known Internet safety expert and advocate offers parents these rules of the road.

• Never give out personal information (such as name, age, address, phone number, school, town, password, schedule) or fill out questionnaires or any forms online.

• Never meet in person with anyone you have met online.

• Do not enter chat rooms.

• Do not tell anyone online where you will be or what you will be doing without Mom and/or Dad's permission.

• Never respond to or send e-mail to new people you meet online. Talk to your parents first so that they can check it out.

• Be careful not to go into a new online area that is going to cost additional money without first getting Mom and/or Dad's permission.

• Never send, without Mom and/or Dad's permission, a picture over the Internet or via regular mail to anyone you've met on the Internet.

• Don't buy or order products online or give out any credit card information online without Mom and/or Dad's permission.

• Never respond to any email or chat conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable. End such an experience by logging off and telling Mom and/or Dad as soon as possible.

• Always tell Mom and/or Dad about something you saw, intentionally or unintentionally, that is upsetting.


CE staff contributed to this report