The study, conducted by the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, also said that one out of five youths between the ages of 10 and 17 who use the Internet is regularly exposed to unwanted sexual solicitations.
According to the study, 48 percent of youths under the age of 18 were the perpetrators of the sexual solicitations. In addition, 19 percent of sexual requests came from females, showing that not all sexual solicitors on the Internet fit the media stereotype of an older, male predator.
"(The study) presents a picture of young people who are confronted with offensive, upsetting and potentially dangerous Internet encounters," Ernest Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which funded the study, said in a statement. "It poses the challenge of how we can clean up the cyberspace environment, where our youth are going to go increasingly to play and learn."
Allen was among others who testified today at the first of three Child Online Protection Act Commission hearings focusing on tools and methods to protect children from "inappropriate" content online.
The study also said that one in 33 children received an aggressive sexual request from a solicitor asking the youth to meet them. Solicitors also called children on the phone or sent them regular mail, money or gifts.
In 13 percent of instances, the youths knew where the solicitor lived, and in 4 percent of incidents children said that the solicitor lived nearby, within a one-hour drive or less, the study said.
Although the study said that approximately one-quarter of youths who reported the incidents were distressed, less than 10 percent of sexual solicitations and only 3 percent of unwanted exposure episodes were reported to authorities.
"The Internet has a seamier side that young people seem to be encountering with great frequency," the study said. "While many are able to glide past these encounters as mere litter on the information superhighway, some experience them as real collisions with a reality they did not expect and are distressed to find."
The study was conducted between August 1999 and February 2000 and was based on interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,501 youths who used the Internet at least once a month in the past six months.