There's a good article on one high-profile internet sex story over at the Columbia Journalism Review. It focuses largely on the ethical issues concerning Perverted Justice. What's germane to the fearsome internet project is the article's final section, discussing bad stats on online, underage, sexual predation. For example,
When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave a speech about a major initiative to combat the “growing problem” of Internet predators, he cited a statistic that 50,000 such would-be pedophiles were prowling the Net at any given moment and attributed it to Dateline. Jason McLure, a reporter at Legal Times in Washington, D.C... asked the show about the number. Dateline told him that it had gotten it from a retired FBI agent who consulted with the show. When the agent was contacted he wasn’t sure where the number had come from, terming it a “Goldilocks” figure — “Not small and not large.”
Even better, there are historical roots to the number:
He added that it was the same figure that was used by the media to describe the number of people killed annually by Satanic cults in the 1980s, and before that was cited as the number of children abducted by strangers each year in the 1970s.
Another doubtful number also feels just right for stories:
...many news reports have cited a Justice Department study as saying that one in five children is approached online by a sexual predator. But as Radford Benjamin of The Skeptical Inquirer pointed out, what that 2001 study actually said was that 19 percent had received a “sexual solicitation” online, about half of which came from other teens and none of which led to a sexual assault. According to the study, the number of teens aggressively solicited by adults online was about 3 percent.
Ah, that lurking fear of cyberspace and underage sexuality: that teensagers might have sexual desires.
But let's forget who's usually behind kidnappings and abuse:
In general, according to data compiled by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 70 percent of sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by family members or family friends.
Media question: how much air time do we see devoted to such take-downs of numbers?
Education question: how much school policy is made based in part on these stories?
(via Will Richardson)