Use of Social Networking Sites in Online Sex Crimes Against Minors: An Examination of National Incidence and Means of Utilization



      To describe the variety of ways social networking sites (SNSs) are used to facilitate the sexual exploitation of youth, as well as identify victim, offender, and case differences between arrests, with and without a SNS nexus.


      Mail surveys were sent to a nationally representative sample of over 2,500 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. Follow-up detailed telephone interviews were conducted for 1,051 individual cases ending in an arrest for Internet-related sex crimes against minors in 2006.


      In the United States, an estimated 2,322 arrests (unweighted n = 291) for Internet sex crimes against minors involved SNSs in some way, including an estimated 503 arrests (unweighted n = 93) in cases involving identified victims and the use of SNSs by offenders (the majority of arrests involved undercover operations undertaken by police). SNSs were used to initiate sexual relationships, to provide a means of communication between victim and offender, to access information about the victim, to disseminate information or pictures about the victim, and to get in touch with victim's friends.


      A considerable number of arrests for Internet sex crimes against minors have a SNS nexus to them. The findings support previous claims that prevention messages should target youth behaviors rather than specific online locations where these crimes occur. In targeting behaviors, youth can take this knowledge with them online, regardless of whether they are using SNSs, chat rooms, or instant messaging.


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