Girls most at risk from chatroom predators

Girls most likely to receive unwanted comments of a sexual nature in chatrooms

A quarter of young female chatroom participants have had an unpleasant experience online according to a global study on Internet usage amongst children. The report found girls to be more than twice as likely as boys to have had a disturbing conversation in a chatroom.

The Face of the Web: Youth found that of the 10,000 children questioned across the globe, seven-in-ten young Internet users have participated in chatroom conversations.

According to the study from market research company Ispos-Reid, 37 percent of males aged 12 to 17, and 66 percent of females aged 12 to 17 have received disturbing comments about sex and their bodies from a person that they have met in a chatroom. 36 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls in the same age bracket have been pestered with unwanted messages for more information about themselves.

Whilst recognising the fun that can be had in cyber-chat, Gus Schattenberg, vice president of Ispos-Reid acknowledges the equal level of danger that exists in chatrooms. "Unfortunately, for some, chatroom interactions can have at least as much potential of turning weird and upsetting -- especially for young females, who are also the most likely to participate in chatrooms, as other forums for discussion do."

European children were found to be far less likely to admit that they've been unnerved by an unpleasant chatroom experience. Only eight percent of (European) boys are likely likely to report an uncomfortable online interaction. Matthew Saxton, lecturer in Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London explains: "Sex is a difficult taboo subject for children if they're online using taboo subjects, what are they doing there? This is not what you tell your parents about."

Most children who have been upset in chatrooms do not discontinue using the Internet the survey found.

The study also revealed that 57 percent of the time, negative experiences occurred in chatrooms that were devoted to subjects other than dating or relationships. This finding comes two weeks after Yahoo! Messenger was found to be offering adult-rated chat in its child-facing rooms such as "Teen" and "Friends".

One in five children have also gone on to meet in person someone that they first encountered in an Internet chatroom.

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