Children and Pornography Online

Despite the persistent efforts of the U.S. Congress to shield children from such offensive and addictive materials, online pornography has been allowed to flourish. As more and more children access the Internet, they are being exposed to pornography and predators of the worst kind.

Pornography’s online presence

  • The number of pornographic Web pages jumped from 14 million in 1998 to 260 million in 2003. This represents a nearly 2,000 percent increase of pornography available online in just five years.1
  • There are more than 100,000 adult-oriented subscription sites in the United States and about 400,000 sites globally. The U.S. sites are maintained by about 1,000 major firms, with perhaps another 9,000 or so operating as affiliates of other established online adult firms.2
  • Total adult-oriented sites number 4.2 million and comprise about 12 percent of the Internet’s total.3
  • On a global basis, approximately 70 million different individuals per week view at least one adult site (20 million view sites that appear to be hosted in the U.S. or Canada).4

Pornographers’ tricks

  • Spam mail accounted for 58 percent of the world’s e-mail in December 2003.5
  • Adult content comprised 18 percent of spam mail in December 2003.6
  • More than 80 percent of children using e-mail receive inappropriate messages, and 47 percent receive pornographic spam on a daily basis. Further, one in five children (21 percent) open and view spam e-mail.7
  • In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission created 150 e-mail addresses and posted them around the Web. Of those posted on children’s newsgroups, 30 percent received spam for pornography and other adult products and 10 percent received spam for hallucinogenic drugs.8
  • A 2001 survey of adult-oriented sites showed that a majority displayed adult content on the first page, which anyone could see. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) did not indicate the adult nature of the site and only 11 percent included such a notice and also did not feature adult content on the first page. About 25 percent of adult sites hindered the user from leaving. Only three percent required a credit card or other “adult check” to proceed past the first page of the site, where free content could be viewed.9

Inadvertent exposure

  • A 1999 study found that one in four minors had at least one inadvertent exposure to sexually explicit material that year, with the majority of these exposures occurring to youth 15 years of age or older. The vast majority of cases (94 percent) involved naked people; about 38 percent of the images involved people having sex. Eight percent included violence in addition to nudity and/or sex.10
  • By 2003 the number of children aged 8-16 who had viewed pornography online increased to 90 percent. Most of this exposure happened while doing homework online.11
  • Twenty-three percent of youth who reported accidentally viewing a pornographic site were “very or extremely upset by the exposure.”12
  • The children who inadvertently saw these images saw them while surfing the Internet (71 percent), and while opening e-mail or clicking on links in e-mail or Instant Messages (28 percent). Sixty-seven percent of these exposures occurred at home, but 15 percent happened at school and 3 percent in libraries.13
  • Inadvertent exposures happened on the Web as the result of searches (47 percent), misspelled addresses (17 percent), and links in Web sites (17 percent). And, in 26 percent of those exposed-while-surfing incidents, youth reported that they were brought to another sex site when they tried to exit the site they were in.14
  • For those exposed through e-mail, 63 percent were associated with an email address used solely by the individual; 93 percent of inadvertent email exposures came from someone unknown to the individual.15

Children seeking online pornography

  • A representative of the Internet pornography industry told the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) Commission in July 2000 that 19 percent of visitors to the top adult-oriented Web reviewed by his group were under age 15.16
  • The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 15 percent of online teens (19 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls ages 12 to 17) say they have lied about their age to gain access to a Web site – an action most often involved in gaining access to pornographic sites. One-quarter of boys ages 15 to 17 have claimed to be older to gain access to a site.17
  • According to Nielsen/Net ratings, nearly 16 percent of viewers of adult-oriented Web sites in February 2002 were under age 18.18
  • Bill Johnson, director of marketing for adult-oriented Flying Crocodile, estimates that traffic to some sites is 20 to 30 percent children. Johnson also explained that even using current Adult Verification Services (AVSs), adult sites receive 5 percent of their traffic from children.19
  • The Tacoma, Washington, public library monitored users’ attempts to access materials blocked by filtering software. The median age for users with blocked requests was only 16, and the age that generated the greatest number of intercepts was 13. Overall, the library found that 6 percent of total sessions at public terminals were attempts to access sites that were believed to provide graphic materials “depicting full nudity and sexual acts” for “sensational or pornographic purposes.”20
  • A Girls Scouts survey found that teen girls believed they could do the following without their parents’ knowledge:21

86 percent – chat in a chat room
57 percent – read their parents’ email
54 percent – carry on a cyber romance
46 percent – set up a meeting with someone they met online
42 percent – view a porn site

Online predators

  • One in five young people reported receiving a sexual solicitation or approach in the last year, and one in 30 received an aggressive solicitation. Girls were targeted almost twice as often as boys (66 percent to 34 percent respectively).22
  • Six of 10 online teens have gotten an email or instant message (IM) from a perfect stranger; 63 percent of those who have gotten such emails or IMs say they have responded to the strangers. Overall, 50 percent of those who use instant messaging, email, or chat rooms have corresponded via IM or email with people that they have never met face-to-face. When asked, most teens say they do not tell their parents when a stranger contacts them.23
  • The Girls Scouts Research Institute found that 30 percent of girls have been sexually harassed in a chat room. Of those who were harassed:24

30 percent – got out and didn’t tell anyone
28 percent – wrote a nasty note back
21 percent – did nothing because it is a common occurrence
14 percent – told friends
7 percent – told their mom or dad

Online decision making

  • Of youth who say they had talked online with people they did not know in person, 12 percent had sent a picture to the person, and 7 percent have willingly talked about sex.25
  • In addition, 5 percent of youth have posted a picture of themselves for general viewing and 11 percent have posted personal information in a public space, mostly their last name.26
  • Girls make decisions about online behavior based on the following criteria:27
    84 percent – use their “common sense”
    51 percent – follow parents’ advice
    46 percent – take hints from the TV or things they have read
    29 percent – listen to teachers’ warnings
    4 percent – believe “nothing is really bad online because it isn’t real”
  • More than half (55 percent) of children ages 12 to 15 say they do not tell their parents everything they do online.28
    Three-fourths of girls say their parents have rules for the Internet. Forty-three percent of girls admit to breaking those rules.29

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