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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