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Youth Sexting Not All That Common, Reports Find

Illegal actions involving sexting befall a relatively small number of youth Internet users nationally, according to two reports from the University of New Hampshire.

But the reports focus on transmission of videos and pictures, and don't address sexually explicit text-based messages that might also be sent via smartphone, computer, or other electronic communication.

One study based on an anonymous survey of more than 1,500 youth Internet users ages 10-17 found only one in 100 respondents reported appearing in or creating sexually explicit images showing "naked breasts, genitals, or bottoms," and one in 40 reported creating nude or nearly nude pictures or videos.

A second study based on an analysis of youth sexting cases from a sample of more than 2,700 law enforcement agencies estimated that 3,477 cases of youth-produced sexual images were handled by such agencies during 2008 and 2009. That's a relatively low number for a crime nationally, the study says, citing an estimate that only 100 more cases of sexting were reported to authorities than youth homicides during 2008.

Both studies, published by the university's Crimes Against Children Research Center, note the difficulty in defining and differentiating different types of sexting. They also both focus primarily on the transmission of images, which are far more likely to get kids (and adults) in legal trouble.

Two thirds of the cases examined were found to be aggravated incidents involving additional elements of crime and abuse beyond the creation, transmission, and possession of sexual images, with a little more than half of those involving an adult. The rest were termed experimental and were mostly found to be driven by romantic or attention-seeking motivations.

Meanwhile, the youth survey showed that estimates of youths involved in sexting could range between one in 100 to nearly one in 10, depending on the definition used.

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