Childhood abuse, avatar choices, and other risk factors associated with internet-initiated victimization of adolescent girls

Jennie G. Noll, Chad E. Shenk, Jaclyn E. Barnes, Frank W. Putnam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE. The objective of the study was to determine the risk factors for Internet-initiated victimization of female adolescents. In particular, it was expected that girls who experienced childhood abuse would show higher vulnerability than their non-abused peers. In addition, the study examined how provocative self-presentations might be related to online sexual advances and offline encounters. PATIENTS AND METHODS. Adolescent girls aged 14 to 17 years who had experienced substantiated childhood abuse (N = 104) were demographically matched with non-abused girls (N = 69) and surveyed regarding Internet usage, maternal and paternal caregiver presence, substance use, high-risk sexual attitudes, and involvement with high-risk peers. To measure online self-presentation, participants each created avatars, which were quantified according to the degree of provocative physical features. RESULTS. Forty percent of the sample reported experiencing online sexual advances, and 26% reported meeting someone offline who they first met online. Abused girls were significantly more likely to have experienced online sexual advances and to have met someone offline. Having been abused and choosing a provocative avatar were significantly and independently associated with online sexual advances, which were, in turn, associated with offline encounters. CONCLUSIONS.A history of childhood abuse may increase Internet-initiated victimization vulnerability. Parents should be aware of the ways in which their adolescents are presenting themselves online. Making adolescent girls and their parents aware that provocative online self-presentations may have implications for sexual solicitation might help to ward off sexual advances and might help prevent Internet-initiated victimizations. Practitioners should consider standard inquiry into Internet and media usage an aspect of comprehensive care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e1078-e1083
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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