New sexting typology: Needed clarity

Two previous studies have given us brief very helpful insights into why teens send nude photos via cellphones – the MTV/AP 2009 study that looked at “sexting” in the context of dating abuse (as part of pressure, manipulation, and/or control) and Pew/Internet‘s 2009 qualitative research, finding that “these images are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity … a way of starting or maintaining a relationship with a significant other … also passed along to friends for their entertainment value, as a joke or for fun.”

Now, thanks to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, we have a very clear, complete typology of sexting, helpfully divided into two classes that schools and law enforcement need to give careful consideration before taking action when sexting incidents arise at school: “Experimental” and “Aggravated.” The typology is based on the authors’ review of more than 550 actual cases identified in a survey of law enforcement agencies and uses this definition: “images of minors created by minors that could qualify as child pornography under applicable criminal statutes.” What Pew turned up in 2009 falls more into the Experimental category, which the CACRC defines as incidents in which “youth took pictures of themselves to send to established boy‐ or girlfriends, to create romantic interest in other youth, or for reasons such as attention‐seeking, but there was no criminal behavior beyond the creation or sending of images, no apparent malice, and no lack of willing participation by youth who were pictured.” What the MTV/AP poll turned up as dating abuse would fall under “Aggravated” sexting but doesn’t cover all the behaviors that need consideration. Here’s what the CACRC authors detail as Aggravated sexting behaviors: incidents involving “criminal or abusive elements beyond the creation, sending or possession of youth‐produced sexual images.” The additional elements include either adult involvement or criminal or abusive behavior by minors. The latter might include 1) sexual abuse, extortion, threats; 2) malicious conduct arising from interpersonal conflicts; or 3) creation or sending or showing of images without the knowledge or against the will of a minor who was pictured. The typology also helpfully includes examples of cases that fit these descriptions in the form of brief summaries of actual cases (in shaded text in the 10-page report).


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