Sunday, May 06, 2007

On the Case?

Today's New York Times was full of lascivious stories of girl teens at risk from social networking sites that glorify the voyeurism and instrumentality about sexuality that is a feature of the dominant culture. Unfortunately, the anecdotal evidence in "States Ponder Laws to Keep Web Predators from Children" doesn't address two issues that lead to far more cases of abuse: 1) parents who hide their exploitation of their own children by pulling them from local schools and other public institutions and 2) social service workers who have caseloads too large to monitor families who are already in trouble and the multi-generational dynamics that are at work. The solution, I say, is more social networks not less.

Stranger danger still accounts for a relatively small percentage of crimes. Some facts: teens are actually safer from sexual abuse than very young children without verbal abilities; male victims are just as common as female victims; children are most likely to be murdered by their parents. Looking at public awareness campaigns like this one, which you can complain about here if you want to protest its voyeuristic sexism, you would never know the statistical picture.

The two rising stars in the story in the Times, were Roy Cooper, State Attorney General for North Carolina, and Richard Blumenthal, State Attorney General for Connecticut. Both are Democrats, and both are pushing for age verification.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your 'fact' link to contains outdated info. At the bottom of the link page under sex offender statistics, they claim, "Recidivision rates for crimes higher among sex offenders". On the next page they cite from a 1997 BJS study, yet provide a link to an updated BJS study from November of 2003. This study says sex offenders "were less likely to be re-arrested for any offense...", but "four times more likely" to be arrested for another sex crime, 5.3% to 1.3%. The key word being 'arrested' instead of convicted. Sex offenders have many more conditions placed on them than the average offender and can be arrested for almost anything. The arrest, without a conviction, is enough to be found in violation of their conditions, under the "preponderance of evidence" standard and sent back to prison. Why did the site provide a link to the updated info instead of just updating their own site? This leads me to question the relevance of the remaining information. As an aside, why hasn't anyone tried using library cards for age verification of minors?

11:29 AM  
Blogger Liz Losh said...

Apologies for the outdated information. I will update it when I get a chance, and provide some more detailed analysis of the data. (I suspect that this will be after I've finished the two papers I have to do this week and am back from a conference abroad.)

But I do think that using library cards is a terrible idea, given how librarians' professional associations are already unhappy enough with the surveillance policies of the government over electronic records.

As to your argument about the 5.3 and 1.3 comparison, I'd have to say I'd give you a C- if you were one of my writing students, because I'm not sure of the larger argument that you are intending to support with your quibble with the numbers. Other than the library card idea, I'm not sure what point of view your are representing here.

To be clear, here's mine: I'm a feminist pro-progressive-government person who tends to defend free culture and privacy issues on utilitarian anti-hype grounds. There are already enough contradictory impulses here, but at least I'm clear about my political interests.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was giving an example of what was wrong with the web site's information and went off on a pet peeve of mine, statistics, which are easily manipulated, with said manipulations ending up as Congressional findings of fact.
But I agree with you, the danger is overhyped and misplaced while being politically exploited.

I have great respect for librarians and their history of standing up for our liberties. I don't trust the government with any personal information, but because MySpace and others are refusing to segregate minors from adults while claiming there is no feasible way to verify a minor's age, I thought library cards might help. The direction now is to restrict registered sex offenders from participating in social networking by forcing them to provide their email addresses to a federal database.

Failing to address age verification provides the fuel for government regulation of the internet and restrictions on who can participate.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Jennifer K. Lubke said...

I have seen these "think before you post" PSAs in circulation on various edublogs and had thought about their value as a potential "hook" or discussion starter with my students. I even provided links to the PSAs as a potential resource for other teachers concerned about Internet safety. Then I read your post, which prodded me to think more deeply about the validity of the ads.

I still think the ads have instructional merit. The obvious solution is to turn the Internet safety buzz (or "hype," as some would term it) into an opportunity for critical inquiry. Why not let the PSA target audience, the teens themselves, judge whether the ads are helpful or problematic?

11:09 AM  

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