Does Virtual Sexual Aggression Predict Offline Sexual Aggression?

Virtual aggression, cyber-bullying, and cyber-stalking are all forms of technology-based coercive behavior (TBC). It is estimated that nearly one third of all adolescents and young adults have been the victim of some form of TBC, including unsolicited sexual advances, harassment, or unwanted sexual images. It is also estimated that nearly one in five of adolescents and young adults have committed some form of TBC in the past 12 months. This represents a significant problem for the mental health field and for society at large. Sexual victimization and harassment can have serious psychological consequences. It is unclear whether or not the factors that lead someone to engage in these types of actions could also make them a threat in the non-virtual world. In other words, is a cyber-stalker or internet sexual predator more likely to commit acts of stalking and sexual aggression in real life than someone who does not prey on people via the internet? And if so, what are some of the risk factors for this type of behavior?

To get a better idea about what makes someone more vulnerable to TBC behavior, Martie P. Thompson of the Department of Public Health Sciences at Clemson University in South Carolina recently led a study looking at social, individual and community based factors in a sample of 795 men who completed a survey about their beliefs and behaviors relating to women and relationships. Thompson found that five specific factors emerged as being the most common among the men who engaged in TBC. They were high number of sexual partners, acceptance of forced sexual activity, supportive beliefs toward rape, pornography exposure, and membership or activity in collegiate or high school student government. Although the first four factors were not surprising, the student government membership was.

Thompson believes that perhaps young men who crave power and control, or possess other narcissistic characteristics, may be drawn to government positions. These same characteristics have been shown to be present in individuals who exhibit stalking or harassment behaviors. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that given the larger social network that a government position affords these men, the combination of social accessibility, narcissistic traits, and the other four risk factors could make them especially vulnerable to TBC behaviors. “Our findings also indicate that the significant predictors of TBC are similar to predictors of in-person sexual aggression,” said Thompson. Although it is unclear whether TBC predicts in-person sexual violence and aggression, these findings raise an important question that should prompt further research into this area.

Thompson, M. P., and Morrison, D. J. (2012). Prospective predictors of technology-based sexual coercion by college males. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030904

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  • toni lynn

    toni lynn

    January 21st, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    If someone is a jerk online, then there is a pretty good chance that he will be a jerk in real life. The real “you” always comes through, even if you think that you are only limiting your actions to the virtual world. And I do think that men like this are especially drawn to jobs where they can exert that power over others- it’s like they get off on that or something.

  • Garett


    January 21st, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    If you ask me the chances that a cyber bully is a general bully are the same as any person in the crowd being a general bully.I’m not a bully of any sort myself but knowing a few friends who do indulge in the occasional cyber bullying,I can say that some people do it just for the false sense of power.and the anonymity afforded to them is the major reason they are doing that in the first place.In the real world however the anonymity is taken away and they can get into trouble so they may or may not indulge in bullying.

  • Nico


    January 22nd, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    note to self. . . don’t let kids get involved in student government?!?

  • harry


    January 22nd, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    don’t know about other forms of bullying but sexual aggression? yes I think those that are like that in the real world tend to do the same online too. they also have the cover of identity not being known so it’s much easier to prey online for these perverts.

  • Donald


    January 22nd, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    I don’t think this can be generalized. Most of those ‘cyber bullies’? They are just insecure individuals playing out their fantasy thanks to the anonymity afforded to them in the cyber space. They neither have the courage to do something like that in real life nor will they undertake such a risky venture.

    Someone who does so in the real world may not want to do that in the cyber space simply because the real deal gives him more of a head rush!

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