CURRENT ISSUES IN CHILD PORNOGRAPHY: SEXTING
Recently, new forms of electronic communication (such as Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging) have generated concern among parents, educators, policy makers, and police with respect to how children use them. In particular, recent media coverage detailing the serious consequences of "sexting" has created a new public- safety concern.
Although no legal definition currently exists, sexting generally refers to the sending and/or receiving of sexually suggestive images or messages to peers through a cell phone (Agustina & Gomez-Duran, 2012). This can include nude images or nearly nude images (e.g. images with youths wearing bathing suits, posing provocatively with clothes on, or images that are focused on covered genitalia). Given the relative newness of this phenomenon, researchers have only begun to estimate the prevalence of sexting among today's youth. Some studies have shown that as little as 4% of today's youth have engaged in sexting at some point in their lives (Len- hart, 2009), while other studies estimate a prevalence rate as high as 30% (Martin- ez-Prather & Vandiver, 2014).
Given the legal definition of child pornography, and how the current law treats content such as this, the immediate reaction may be to assume sexting is a form of child pornography. Recent headlines of teenagers facing felony charges for child pornography offenses situate sexting as a serious crime deserving severe punishments. In October 2014, 30 high school students from a school in suburban Michigan were arrested and placed on felony trial for taking and sending sexually suggestive images of themselves and other students. Some may even be convicted and mandated to register as a sex offender (Jacques, 2014). Some researchers, however, remain skeptical about treating sexting as a form of child pornography. Some argue that the context of the images does not constitute legal child pornography and media coverage resulted in a moral panic (Mitchell, Finkelhor, Jones & Wolak, 2012). As discussed in the first chapter of this textbook, many laws and policies pertaining to sex crimes and sex offenders have been the result of moral panic, with little research or evidence to warrant them. With sexting being a relatively new sexual deviance issue, it will be interesting to see how the law, criminal justice policy, and the broader community treat it in the future.