23% of minors between the ages of 12 and 15 claim to have received a request of a sexual nature at some point from an adult on the internet and 14% acknowledge having interacted with that unknown person of legal age. This is clear from the study Epidemiology of online sexual solicitation and interaction of minors with adults: A longitudinal study, carried out using questionnaires to 1,029 Spanish students by the International University of La Rioja (UNIR), with the collaboration of researchers from the University of Basque Country, the University of Deusto and the University of Barcelona.

The most common sexual request reported by minors was “an adult asked me about explicit sexual content through the Internet or my mobile phone”, much more frequent in girls (74.5% of the total) than in boys (25.5%). 

“The most relevant aspect of this study is that for the first time in Spain we have followed up the behavior of minors on the Internet for 13 months, which has allowed us to obtain an x-ray of how bullying evolves and what impact it has on their quality of life. life”, says Joaquín González, principal investigator of the UNIR Cyberpsychology group. The questionnaire was passed in December 2017, May 2018 and January 2019 to students from educational centers in Castilla-La Mancha, Aragón, Castilla y León, the Community of Madrid, the Valencian Community, the Basque Country and the Principality of Asturias.

The report includes the degree of quality of life in relation to the health of young people, known in English as health-related quality of life, a measure that analyzes physical health, psychological well-being, relationships with peers, the level of independence, and the perception of environments that are relevant to the child, such as school or family. The results show that being a “stable” victim of this type of abuse may be related to episodes of depression, anxiety, increased perception of loneliness, and less satisfaction with life.

“These minors worsen in isolation and problems of emotional discomfort, they report greater sadness and this is explained by the fact that they are in a relationship from which they do not know how to get out… there may also be a feeling of guilt for having agreed” , points out Noemí Pereda, professor of Victimology at the University of Barcelona (UB) and co-author of the study, financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and UNIR. Among the “stable victims”, there is a higher proportion of girls (63 compared to 6 boys) and among the “new victims” there are also almost 40% more of them (92 compared to 52). There are three times more cases of “new victims” (144) than of minors who have stopped suffering bullying (46).

What is considered an online sexual request? “We are talking about the fact that an adult asks the minor to participate in sexual activities or have conversations of that nature. Regarding interactions, there are requests for sex via webcam, conversations with sexual content, sending images or videos, or meeting in person to have sexual relations”, indicates Joaquín González. The most worrying thing, he adds, is that the minor develops a feeling of attachment to the abuser, who generates false expectations and presents himself as a figure to be trusted and intimate with, initially hiding his character intentions. sexual. 

“Hay estrategias de manipulación emocional por parte del adulto en la mayoría de los casos, mensajes como “yo te quiero”, “yo me preocupo por ti”. Se hacen pasar por alguien de su entorno con una edad parecida, amigo de un amigo, de un instituto cercano, con una foto atractiva. Incluso dicen ser un personaje conocido, por ejemplo, integrantes de bandas de música juveniles”, comenta Noemí Pereda, experta en violencia contra la infancia y miembro del grupo de investigación en victimización infantil y adolescente de la UB. El ciberembaucamiento o la propuesta sexual online a menores por parte de adultos es un delito tipificado en el artículo 183 del Código Penal.

The Unicef ​​report Impact of technology on adolescence: relationships, risks and opportunities, published in 2021, reflected that 57.2% of Spanish minors between the ages of 11 and 18 (out of a sample of almost 50,000 minors) have accepted some met a stranger on a social network and 21.5% met in person with people they met exclusively through the Internet. 9.8% were made a sexual proposition through online chats, networks or video games. According to that same document, 95% of young people between the ages of 11 and 18 have a mobile phone with Internet access.

In this sense, the principal investigator of the UNIR Cyberpsychology group warns that it is a “potentially preventable psychosocial problem.” “Increasingly, minors receive their first cell phone at a younger age, falling victim to this harassment is not their fault, with greater parental supervision it could be prevented.” He gives as an example the parental contract designed by the Anar Foundation, a document that parents and son sign at the moment the device is delivered, in which some rules of use are established, such as the limited connection time or issues such as people you will accept in your social networks.

“The most important thing is to sit down with him and explain the risks involved in using it, he has to accept it, it should not be something imposed,” explains Benjamín Ballesteros, Anar’s program director, who points out that the initiative was born as a result of the advancement of the age at the delivery of the first mobile (it is already done mostly when the child is nine or ten years old) added to the fact that 29% of the calls they received on their free number for minors (out of a total of 251,000 per year) were related to abuse in technological media without parental control (grooming, sexting and cyberbullying).

Physical encounters

Another of the questions that the participants were asked was if they had come to know in person the adult who had contacted them online. 1.3% answered yes (a total of 13) at the first moment of the consultation, a percentage that rose to 2.6% (26 adolescents) in the final period. The minors who reported having had a sexual encounter in person with the adult who questioned them through the network were 0.6% (6) in the first round; compared to 1.8% (18) in the third. “As they grow, they are more prone to physical contact, to break the online barrier, it is logical from the point of view of adolescence,” says González, who warns of the lack of training and prevention in educational centers. The incidence of new cases in those 13 months that the investigation lasted was 10%.

When asked why girls are the most affected by this type of harassment, Noemí Pereda answers that the main reason is that the aggressors are, for the most part, men, since many of them are interested in collecting female pornographic material, that has a lot of output on the internet. “To this is added that they express themselves much more about their needs and problems, they have greater ease when it comes to being honest,” she says. Pereda believes that there is still a macho tradition in most families, believing that girls are safer if they spend more time at home, which does not happen to the same extent with young boys. “The problem is that they are not aware of the online risks that their daughter spends so many hours locked in the room, there is a lack of training in this regard,” claims the researcher.

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