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Children preyed on online

12 May 2011 - 02:45 By NASHIRA DAVIDS

New research by Unisa has lifted the lid on online sexual victimisation of children on sites such as Facebook and MXit, as well as e-mail and cellphones.

The research, conducted by the university's Youth Research Unit and unveiled at the South African Professional Society on the Abuse of Children in Pretoria this week, found that:

  • 21.46% of high school pupils surveyed said they had been approached with "unwanted talking about sex";
  • 17.79% said they had received e-mails or instant messages with advertisements or links to "X-rated" websites;
  • 16.95% had opened messages or links with pictures of naked people or people having sex;
  • 16.60% had been asked for sexual information about themselves;
  • 14.27% were worried or felt threatened by online harassment; and
  • 9.90% said they had been asked to "do something sexual".

Dr Isa van Aardt and Antoinette Basson conducted the research. Van Aardt said perpetrators were usually in their late 20s and older.

"They would go fishing for children on the internet, invite them on Facebook, for example, and strike up a friendship."

Van Aardt said almost 6% of children reported that they had been encouraged to run away from home.

"Although percentages seems to be low, the aim is still that it should be zero."

The team discovered that while boys and girls were targeted, more girls reported that they had been asked for sexual information or encouraged to participate in sexual discussions. Girls also seemed to feel more threatened than boys.