Internet sex offenders initiate sex topics from the very first time a chat session starts, a study of online social networking patterns has revealed.
The study found that more than two-thirds (63.3 percent) of Internet sexual offenders initiate the topic of sex with middle school and high school students during their first chat session, underscoring the significant issue of on-line risky behaviour between sexual offenders and their potential victims.
"The use of online social networks such as Facebook continues to rapidly increase among all age groups, providing new opportunities for the exchange of sexual information and potential unsafe encounters between predators and the vulnerable young," researcher Elizabeth B. Dowdell, PhD, RN, CRNP associate professor at Villanova University College of Nursing, Villanova, PA, said.
"The study surveyed middle school, high school, college age students as well as sexual offenders about their use of social networking sites in order to provide better education and prevention programs for use by nurses and other health care providers," she stated.
Questionnaires asking about various characteristics of participants' usage of social networking sites were distributed and completed by 404 middle school students (ages 9-15), 2,077 high school students (ages 15-18), 1,284 students drawn from five traditional four-year colleges, and 466 male adults who had been convicted of either an Internet sexual offence or a hands-on sexual offence and/or a prior Internet offence.
"Students may not be aware that they are engaging with a sexual predator online, and may not report online sexual advances to parents or school authorities, so nurses - especially school nurses and paediatric and primary care nurse practitioners - need to take a leadership role in assessing and screening for victimization or vulnerabilities," Maureen Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, editor-in-chief of AJN, said.
"It is imperative that nurses keep pace with understanding these issues and educate students and parents to identify suspicious online behaviours.
"They can also assist schools in developing health programs about maintaining safety on the internet, and outreach for students who are harassed, threatened, or assaulted as a consequence of meeting someone online," she added.
The study has been published in the July issue of the American Journal of Nursing (AJN).