Survey shows students as victims -- and perps -- of cyber crime

Dan Goldman

Parents may be worried about that frightening stranger who hides behind a computer screen to lure children in online, depicted on the popular television news series, “How To Catch A Predator.”

However, a recent survey shows that cyber crimes are more likely to come from a fellow student than an adult. The survey results also show that children as young as kindergarten surf the Internet, with some exposed to material they said made them uncomfortable.

Among other findings: Cyber bullying — sending threatening or demeaning messages — starts as early as second grade and peaks in middle school.

Rochester Institute of Technology researchers released their findings in a survey of children’s online experiences Wednesday at a news conference at the school.

Fourteen school districts took part in and helped pay for the far-reaching survey, which surveyed about 40,000 students and hundreds of teachers as part of the Rochester Regional Cyber Safety and Ethics Initiative. The surveys were taken between May 2007 and January 2008.

The districts were: Brighton, Brockport, Canandaigua, the Diocese of Rochester, East Irondequoit, East Rochester, Fairport, Gates Chili, Greece, Hilton, Kendall, Monroe 1 BOCES, Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES, Newark, Penfield, Pittsford, Rush-Henrietta, Victor, Webster, West Irondequoit and Wheatland-Chili.

Sam McQuade, graduate program coordinator at RIT’s Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, said the survey was as comprehensive as any ever conducted on computer crime and victimization.

“It’s unique because for the first time, children younger than 7 years of age were asked about their Internet activities,” said McQuade.

Additionally, the survey points out the ages when children become victims, as well as offenders of cyber crime.

The survey was conducted after a previous RIT survey showed cyber crimes occurring in college. School officials felt that similar events occurred in elementary, middle and high schools, but didn’t know how much.

Brighton Superintendent Chris Manaseri said the data can help Brighton and other school districts respond.

“What the data revealed in the cyber survey can do for schools is to help us understand the need for curriculum and staff development at age appropriate levels and the importance of  addressing the issues in ways that students will understand and respond to positively,” Manaseri said.

Manaseri said the survey will allow them to lead the way for other communities in responding to cyber crime among students.

“As a consortium of school districts,” he said, “we are very pleased to be partners with others in our community who recognize this important issue and who have taken steps to begin to address it at a grassroots level, in a matter which will be a model for other communities around the nation or the world.”

Researchers grouped their results by age. Here are some of the findings.

Primary

The survey results showed that even in kindergarten and first grade, most kids have access to home computers. Fifty-seven percent of kindergarten through first-grade students in Monroe County surf the Internet with the home machines.

Forty-eight percent of kindergartners and first-graders reported seeing things on the Internet that made them uncomfortable, but only 72 percent of those students reported the experience to an adult.

In second and third grades, 94 percent children in this group joined the online gaming craze. Kids reported being exposed to sexual Internet communications as early as the second grade. Eleven percent of second- and third-graders were asked online to describe private things about their bodies, and 10 percent of children reported being exposed to private things about someone else’s body. Cyber bullying was experienced by 18 percent of kids. Nine percent of students admitted to bullying.

For the most part, these younger kids were protected by their lack of reading and writing skills, which limited their ability to understand written content or to participate in chat rooms. Although children of any age can fall prey to online abuse, the survey showed that the potential increased as they become more proficient with their language skills and acquired Internet communication skills.

Elementary

The survey showed crimes such as illegal pirating of music, movies and software began for many in fourth grade.

Although risky behavior was low for kids in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, a large number could be victimized by having posted personal information on the Internet. Personal interests were posted online by 16 percent, physical activities were posted by 15 percent, real names were used by 20 percent, and 23 percent said they lied about their age online.

Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders were asked whether they had been victimized in any way online. Of the children who responded:

- 13 percent said someone used their password without their knowledge.

- 10 percent had been embarrassed online.

- 7 percent had been threatened or bullied.

- 2 percent were exposed to nude pictures or private things about someone else’s body.

- 3 percent were shown nude pictures of other people.

- 1 percent were asked for nude pictures of themselves.

Middle and high school

From the middle school to the high school, kids experienced all forms of online abuse either as victims or perpetrators.

Although cyber bullying is known to continue beyond high school, the survey showed that it peaked during middle school. Cyber bullying and abuse were more common from grades 7 through 9.

Students in seventh through ninth grades were asked if they had done something they shouldn’t have online:

- 7 percent said they bypassed security controls designed to keep them off certain Web sites.

- 4 percent embarrassed someone online.

- 4 percent threatened or harassed someone.

- 3 percent requested nude photos.

- 11 percent pretended to be someone else.

- 24 percent lied about their age.

- 5 percent admitted to online plagiarism.

As for the victims in this age group:

- 15 percent had someone impersonate them online.

- 13 percent reported being bullied or threatened.

Many of the victims knew the perpetrator, as 59 percent reported that they had been victimized by friends.

In grades 10 through 12, 12 percent admitted bypassing security measures, 65 percent said they downloaded music illegally, 34 percent said they downloaded movies illegally and 30 percent said they downloaded software illegally.

Being harassed was reported by 17 percent of kids in this age group, and online stalking was reported by 15 percent. Exposure to unwanted pornography was reported by 23 percent of students.

The survey showed 48 percent of students in the age group chatted with strangers.

Staff

A total of 880 teachers and other school staff took a separate survey.

According to the survey, relatively few teachers believe they are prepared to teach students in areas of Internet safety, information security or cyber ethics. A majority feel that these are important subjects, however, teachers in grades K-3 believe these subjects are less important for younger students to know about.

In general, teachers feel that districts are well prepared to facilitate student learning through technology.

Parents

Of the 376 parents surveyed, 25 percent feel that their child knows more about computer technology than they do, while 14 percent feel that they know the same amount as their children do. Fourteen percent of parents caught their children doing something with a computer they should not have been doing.

Parents were generally aware of filtering, blocking and information-security software, but only 30 percent reported using the software.

Students also say they are less supervised than their parents think. Only seven percent of parents surveyed said they provide no supervision for their children when they are online, whereas 66 percent of students say their parents provide no supervision.

More information on the survey is available at the Rochester Regional Cyber Safety and Ethics Initiative Web site: www.rrcsei.org.

Contact Messenger Post writer Dan Goldman at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 270 or dgoldman@MessengerPostMedia.com