There are many online resources, offering myriad facts, theories and evidence about sexual abuse. Some of it is unreliable. In some cases, sites unintentionally misconstrue data or use out-dated statistics; in other cases, they use slanted information to prey on fear for profit. And the news media, too, can perpetuate misleading information.
Larry Magid, a technology journalist and Internet safety advocate, points to an oft-cited statistic that one in five children are solicited on the Internet. It was true when the research was done in 2000 (and in 2006, it was 1 in 7), but it leaves out a telling detail: Most children are approached by other minors.
Magid advises journalists to rely on substantial research and use your critical thinking skills as you would with any story. Start digging. Look at the credentials of the people who are presenting the information and consider if they are using a recent news event to promote themselves. Child sexual abuse is a highly charged topic, so Magid urges journalists to ignore straw polls and anecdotal evidence; if findings aren't based on facts and statistical perspective, pass. And even if you do come across a study, always question the sample size, the research methods, who is behind the study and the reason for it.
Lombardi seconds that there is a great deal of data on sexual abuse out there – almost too much for the most diligent journalist to plod through. She suggests starting with the researchers whom the victims’ advocates recommend, or turning to the National Institute of Justice Web site and academic journals. She also recommends doing your homework to figure out who is getting federal funding for researching sexual abuse and who is respected by those with a range of opinions on the issue.