NBC has been getting a lot of mileage off of sexual predators of late, with it’s “To Catch a Predator” series. But they’re not alone. There’s been a lot of press over the past few years about sexual predators on-line. And law enforcement in the U.S. has set up all kinds of programs to entrap on-line predators.
Is this really anything new, though? I mean, did the internet suddenly turn a bunch of people into sexual predators, or were they always out there, and the internet just gave them a new venue?
To answer that, I looked for some statistics on teen pregnancy in the U.S. Turns out, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics publishes data on birth rates and such in the U.S., and back in the ’80s these reports included an interesting table that shows the age of the father reported on birth certificates correlated with the age of the mother.
On to the graph:
(I included two years to show that the numbers are fairly static across the decade, and presumably are valid in general in post-WWII America. Also, I used percentages instead of the actual count because this data is from pregnancies, which are presumably a representative subset of the numbers of people having sex.)
The numbers aren’t terribly surprising at first. Young women are mostly having sex with young men their own age or just a few years older.
But what I find more interesting is that the numbers never fall to zero for the higher age groups. Even though the number of teen pregnancies involving men over 55 years old is only 0.03%–it’s 0.03%! It’s not zero!
And there are a lot of creeps in the 30-40 years old range. They account for 3.11% of the pregnancies of 15-19 year-old women. You can wax poetic all you want about May-December romances, but that’s a lot of creepy guys sleeping with very young women.
Also, since I’ve got this data anyway, I wondered if women can be sexual predators too. Turns out they can, but not in the same numbers as men.
Teen boys who impregnate women are much more likely to be sleeping with a woman their own age then teen girls are to be sleeping with men their own age.
(An interesting side-light to all this: the CDC stop reporting these stats sometime in the early ’90s. And all the programs I’ve seen about preventing teen pregnancy focus on young women, and occasionally young men, but never mention all those creepy old guys cruising the mall picking up high school girls. But I digress.)
Back to NBC and the other news organizations pumping up their ad revenues by trying to get everyone to PANIC over “sexual predators.” Aren’t they doing a service by bringing attention to a problem that has apparently been around for decades? Older men preying on much younger women?
Not really. For one thing, they seem utterly obsessed with “online predators.” But considering that all the data I’ve been discussion was from the ’80s, it would seem that sexual predators don’t really need the internet to find their victims.
Also, the implication of all the current reporting is that young people are being victimized by strangers. Much like with rape, this probably isn’t the case. On the birth certificates issued for mothers 15-19 years old in 1988, 40% didn’t list the father’s age. For mothers 25-29 the number is less than 10%.
Why wouldn’t those young mothers report the fathers’ age? I can’t help but think it’s because they are trying to avoid disrupting their families. The fathers are men in their families, and if the family knew that it would tear them apart. A mother has a lot of incentives to name someone as the father–financial support being a big one. So, she must have a good reason for keeping it a secret if she doesn’t report it.
Would the fact that your mother’s boyfriend is your baby’s daddy be a good reason?
By focusing on the very frightening yet relatively insubstantial spectre of online predators the mainstream media is distracting us from bigger threats to young people. They are once again profiting off of fear mongering and not providing the public service they were supposed to when they were licensed the U.S. airwaves for their broadcasts.