WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Justice together with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children ® (NCMEC) and the Ad Council today announced a new phase of their Online Sexual Exploitation public service advertising (PSA) campaign designed to educate teenage girls about the potential dangers of posting and sharing personal information online.
Popular social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Sconex make it easier for teens to post and share personal information, pictures and videos, which may make them more vulnerable to online predators. Teenage girls are particularly at risk of online sexual exploitation—a recent study by University of New Hampshire researchers for NCMEC found that of the approximately one in seven youth who received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet, 70 percent were girls.
“The Internet is one of the greatest technological advances of our time, but it also makes it alarmingly easy for sexual predators to find and contact children,” stated Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “As Attorney General and as a father, I am committed to protecting our children from pedophiles who troll the Internet for kids. The Think Before You Post campaign sends a strong reminder to children and their parents to be cautious when posting personal information online because anything you post, anyone can see: family, friends and even not-so-friendly people.”
Another study conducted by Cox Communications shows that 61 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have a personal profile on social networking sites such as MySpace, Friendster, or Xanga. In addition, the study found that half of these have posted pictures of themselves online and that one out of five teens reported that it is safe (i.e. “somewhat” or “very safe”) to share personal information on a public blog or networking site. Thirty-seven percent of 13- to 17-year-olds said they're “not very concerned” or “not at all concerned” about someone using personal information they've posted online in ways they haven't approved.
“We are very pleased to join with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ad Council on the third year of our campaign entitled Think Before You Post,” said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of NCMEC. “This PSA campaign is targeted to reach teenage girls and deliver the vital message of not posting identity-revealing information or photos of themselves online that could put them at risk for abduction or exploitation.”
In another study conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center for NCMEC, of youth ages 10 to 17 who use the Internet regularly, 34 percent had posted their real name, telephone numbers or home address, and 45 percent had posted their real age. The PSA campaign, created pro bono by Merkley + Partners, includes TV, radio, magazine and Web advertising. The ads encourage girls to “think before you post” personal information that would leave them vulnerable to online predators. The PSAs seek to educate teens that the Internet is not a “private” place, rather it’s a public place and social networking profiles and blogs potentially release information that can be easily found by anyone, including ill-intentioned people. All of the PSAs direct audiences to www.cybertipline.com to get tips to help prevent online sexual exploitation or to report an incident.
Previous work created for the campaign has focused on increasing awareness of parents and guardians about the prevalence of online sexual exploitation, and on preventing girls from forming inappropriate online relationships with adult men in an effort to reduce their risk of sexual exploitation and abduction. The new PSAs will be distributed to television and radio stations nationwide this week and can be viewed on the Ad Council’s Web site at www.adcouncil.org.
“The popularity, easy accessibility and social acceptance of the Internet, particularly social networking sites, among teenagers can put them in a dangerous situation,” said Peggy Conlon, President and CEO of the Ad Council. “It’s our hope that this campaign will educate teenage girls and their parents about the potential dangers of offering personal information on the Internet.”
“We are very pleased with our continuous partnership with the Ad Council, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the U.S. Department of Justice,” said Andy Hirsch, Executive Creative Director/Partner at Merkley + Partners. “Online sexual exploitation is front page news and we're happy that we can continue to lend our services to help educate teens and their families about this potential danger.”
Since launching in 2004, the Online Sexual Exploitation campaign has garnered over $150 million in donated media support and NCMEC has seen an increase in reports of online enticement of children for sexual acts. Tracking studies conducted by the Ad Council found that parents and guardians who saw the PSAs were significantly more likely than those who had not to have talked to their children within that past week about chatting online with people who they hadn't met in person (44 percent vs. 35 percent).
Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood initiative is a joint effort of federal, state and local law enforcement, along with community leaders, designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. NCMEC's congressionally mandated CyberTipline, a reporting mechanism for child sexual exploitation, has handled more than 419,400 leads. Since its establishment in 1984, NCMEC has assisted law enforcement with more than 125,200 missing child cases, resulting in the recovery of more than 107,600 children. For more information about NCMEC, call its toll-free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST or visit its web site at www.missingkids.com.
The Ad Council
The Ad Council is a private, non-profit organization with a rich history of marshalling volunteer talent from the advertising and media industries to deliver critical messages to the American public. Having produced literally thousands of PSA campaigns addressing the most pressing social issues of the day, the Ad Council has effected, and continues to effect, tremendous positive change by raising awareness, inspiring action and saving lives. To learn more about the Ad Council and its campaigns, visit www.adcouncil.org.