New research documents the risk female teenagers face when they publicly meet people they have met on the Internet and whose identity had not been fully confirmed prior to the meeting.
Experts say the risk is accentuated for teen girls who have been victims of abuse or neglect.
The study, published in the eFirst pages of the journal Pediatrics, shows that 30 percent of teenagers reported having offline meetings with people they have met on the Internet.
“These meetings may have been benign, but for an adolescent girl to do it is dangerous,” said Jennie Noll, Ph.D., a psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the study’s lead author.
Researchers also discovered that abused or neglected teenage girls were more likely to present themselves online in a sexually provocative way than other teenage girls.
Experts say studies have shown that high-risk, online profiles are more likely to lead to offline meetings.
“If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen to start an online sexual discourse, they will more likely target someone who presents herself provocatively,” said Noll, director of research in behavioral medicine and clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children’s. “Maltreatment poses a unique risk for online behavior that may set the stage for harm.”
In the study, Noll and her colleagues reviewed the experience of 251 adolescent girls between the ages of 14 and 17. About half were victims of abuse or neglect.
Disappointingly, parental installation of Internet filtering software at home did not make a difference in the association between maltreatment and high-risk Internet behaviors, said Noll.
These behaviors included intentionally seeking adult content, provocative self-presentations on social networking sites and receiving sexual advances online.
On the other hand, “high quality parenting” and parental monitoring helped reduce the association between adolescent risk factors and these online behaviors, she said.
In a previous pilot study, Noll asked girls whether they have ever met anyone offline after meeting them online. The result was some “chilling” stories,” she said.
“One patient told a story about a guy who started texting her a lot, and he seemed ‘really nice.’ So she agreed to meet him at the mall, she got in his car, they drove somewhere and he raped her.”