Nearly one in five children who regularly use the internet reported receiving unwanted sexual solicitations online, a study has found.

The prevalence of sexual come-ons was not surprising, said David Finkelhor, who led the study as director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center. “More surprising was how few youth and parents disclosed these things to anybody,” he said.

Only 10 percent of the unwanted solicitations were reported to police, an internet service provider, or another authority.

The telephone survey of 1,501 internet users–children ages 10 to 17 who went online at least once a month in the preceding six months–was conducted from August 1999 to February 2000. It was published in the June 20 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nineteen percent of children reported receiving at least one unwanted sexual solicitation within the previous year, with one-quarter of them saying they were distressed by the incidents.

Three percent of those surveyed reported aggressive overtures, in which someone made or attempted contact by telephone, mail, or in person.

Solicitations were defined as requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or to give personal sexual information. Most of the solicitations–89 percent–occurred in chat rooms or via instant messaging. Only 2 percent came via eMail.

Girls and older teens were most at risk, the study found.