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While US children are less likely to encounter sexual predators online than in 2000, they are increasingly being exposed to sexual material while surfing the net

According to a survey conducted by University of New Hampshire researchers for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), the number of kids exposed to pornographic content online rose from 25 percent in 1999 and 2000 to 30 percent in 2005.

The NCMEC attributed the rise in part to aggressive tactics by porn marketers. It also said that the ability to transmit images has become easier because of the increased speed and capacity of PCs and internet connections.

The study revealed that there has been an increase in online harassment of internet users aged between 10 and 17 years-old in the US over this five year period. Reports of harassment have increased from 6 per cent to 9 per cent amongst this age group.

However, the survey found that more children are taking notice of educational messages and media stories surrounding internet safety.

According to the report, a smaller proportion of young internet users received online sexual solicitations from predators over the past few years: one-in-seven children received propositions in 2005 compared to one-in-five for 1999 and 2000.

The study's authors said the decline in solicitations is largely due to more cautious behaviour from young people online with fewer children visiting chatrooms or interacting online with people they did not know.

Nonetheless, the NCMEC report found that more serious kinds of sexual solicitations in which predators attempt to make offline contact with children did not decline over the five year period.

"We're encouraged to find that sexual solicitations are down, though it is concerning that the more aggressive attempts to meet offline have not declined," noted NCMEC president Ernie Allen in a statement.

"Increases in harassment and exposure to sexual material are also disturbing and show that we need to be adapting our prevention efforts to the changing risks to youth online."

The study's authors are urging internet providers and host sites in the US to do more to protect youth from unwanted sexual material, including better filtering and blocking software, and more efficient reporting mechanisms.

Moreover, they suggest more should be done to promote the reporting of offensive behaviour and content. Only a handful of the unwanted sexual solicitations, cases of harassment and sexual material encountered online by children were reported because kids and their parents were generally unaware of who they can report to.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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