And, says the study, young people seem unaware of the legal risks of getting charged under child porn laws:

Sexting among youth is more prevalent than previously thought, according to a new study from Drexel University that was based on a survey of undergraduate students at a large northeastern university. More than 50 percent of those surveyed reported that they had exchanged sexually explicit text messages, with or without photographic images, as minors.

The study also found that the majority of young people are not aware of the legal ramifications of underage sexting. In fact, most respondents were unaware that many jurisdictions consider sexting among minors — particularly when it involves harassment or other aggravating factors — to be child pornography, a prosecutable offense. Convictions of these offenses carry steep punishments, including jail time and sex offender registration.

In a Q and A, the authors explain:

How did this study come about? Murphy: While reading a news article about a teenager caught sexting and the harsh penalties he was facing, I remember being shocked to learn that teenagers caught sexting could potentially be charged under harsh child pornography laws and surprised that the prevalence of youth sexting was not very well understood.

We recognized that this was an understudied area with potentially important developmental, legal and social consequences.

Strohmaier: We decided to pursue this research for a number of reasons. Around the same time the media was covering several high profile cases involving bullying and suicides of adolescents that occurred due to sexting, we learned of criminal cases involving what we consider to be a gross misapplication of sexual predator laws to minors engaging in rather harmless and normative sexual behaviors—including the exchange of sexts. We investigated further, and realized that very few scientific studies have been published examining the incidence and risks of sexting among youth. Given the potential for both harassment and overzealous prosecution of youth involved in sexting, we designed this study to gain more insight into the practice and prevalence of sexting among youth, and how often it is associated with negative consequences.

The Anthony Weiner scandal would be instructive, if only one can get the kids to stop giggling (was a man ever so unfortunately named?). As most probably know, the former Congressman and might-have-been-credible candidate for mayor of New York City ruined his career with sexting scandals. When the sexts became public, they weren’t “hot” or “cool;” they were just ridiculous. Insiders suggest that, because he is married to a high-ranking assistant of Hillary Clinton, he is now being kept out of the way of her serious candidacy for president. Not the future most young folk aspire to, by a long shot.

Young people should learn early on that it is best not to send any electronic communication that would embarrass them if it got rebroadcast. Most e-mails won’t; for example, if the Car Wash for United Way planning documents go to some people they weren’t intended for by mistake, they will simply sound boring or puzzling, and be ignored or deleted.

However, if what we want to say is very personal, we had better say it in person.

In the vid below, Weiner has a hard time explaining himself to a retired teacher, who was by law required to follow a higher standard than he did, though he is campaigning to be her colleagues’ boss, more or less.


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...