Washington: Majority of minors engage in sexting but are unaware of harsh legal consequences of underage sexting, according to a new US study.
The study from Drexel University was based on a survey of undergraduate students at a US university.
More than 50 per cent of those surveyed reported that they had exchanged sexually explicit text messages, with or without photographic images, as minors.
Most respondents (61 per cent) were also unaware that many jurisdictions consider sexting among minors – particularly when it involves harassment or other aggravating factors – to be child pornography, a prosecutable offence in US, researchers said.
Convictions of these offences carry steep punishments, including jail time and sex offender registration.
“Given the harsh legal penalties sometimes associated with youth sexting and the apparent frequency with which youth are engaging in it, the lack of comprehension regarding such penalties poses a significant problem,” said study researcher David DeMatteo.
The study found that those who were aware of the potential legal consequences reported sexting as a minor significantly less than those who were not aware of the legal consequences.
Additionally, 59 per cent of respondents reported that knowledge of legal consequences ‘would have’ or ‘probably would have’ deterred them from sexting.
The finding that legal consequences may deter youth from sexting has important policy implications, researchers said.
Although participants generally reported experiencing few negative social or legal consequences as a result of sexting, 71 per cent reported knowing other teens who experienced negative consequences.
The study was published in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy.
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