Two new studies about sexting from the Crimes Against Children Research Center were released today.
The first is a study of arrests for youth-produced sexual images. One of the most interesting findings is that 47 young people were arrested in 2008-2009 for sexting with other youth as a result of incidents that involved no abuse or malicious activity. These 47 people represent 7% of all cases brought to the attention of law enforcement that the study examined (675). Based on the study’s estimate of the total number of cases nationally (3477), I’d estimate that 242 young people may have been arrested in the US during 2008 and 2009 for sexting with peers that was consensual and did not involve any “intent to harm or reckless misuse.”
Before the publication of this study, we only had anecdotal evidence of such cases, but now I think it’s fair to say that a fairly large number of youth are indeed being arrested for consensual sexting with peers. It’s a small proportion of all youth who sext, but 242 (estimated) unconstitutional and unjust arrests is a serious problem that highlights the larger issue of the criminalization of youth sexuality. I hope they publish the data on the race and sexual orientation of these arrested youth soon–we can guess that people of color and queer youth will be disproportionately represented.
The second study is the first peer-reviewed national study on the prevalence of sexting among youth. Previous privately conducted studies have found, by asking slightly different age groups of youth questions that define sexting in different ways, that anywhere from 4% to 19% have sent sexual images. This study of youth 10-17 years old and finds that 1% have appeared in or created an explicit image that could violate child pornography laws. Though almost 10% report being involved in sending or receiving “sexually suggestive” images. Based on this and other studies, I would guess that the numbers would be substantially higher for a group of people ages 15-25. While only 1% of minors may be violating child pornography laws, the issues of privacy and consent in our use of social media are more important than ever.