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Pew: Sexting reaches 15 percent of teens' cellphones

Those texts being sent by teens: A good chunk of them are sexually explicit or nude photos, according to a survey by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

In a report released today, Pew said 15 percent of teens between 12 and 17 who own a cellphone have received sexually suggestive, nude or nearly nude images of someone they know via text messaging.

About 4 percent of teens surveyed said they have sent such messages.

Please check out a full story from my collegue, Donna St. George, who has been following the sexting trend.

Other highlights from the report:

  • Older teens are much more likely to send and receive these images; 8 percent of 17-year-olds with cellphones have sent a sexually provocative image by text and 30 percent have received a nude or nearly nude image on their phone.

  • Teens who pay their own phone bills are more likely to send "sexts": 17 percent of teens who pay for all of the costs associated with their cellphones send sexually suggestive images via text; 3 percent of teens who do not pay for their cellphone, or pay for only a portion of the cost, send these images.

  • The study focused on three scenarios for sexting:
    1. Exchange of images solely between two romantic partners.
    2. Exchanges between partners that are shared with others outside the relationship.
    3. Exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, but in which at least one person hopes to be.

    Regulators and law enforcement are just coming around to deal with the practice:

    "Both laws and law enforcement practices around sexting are emerging to deal with the issue and they vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction," according to the report. "Some law enforcement officers and district attorneys have begun prosecuting teens who created and shared such images under laws generally reserved for producers and distributors of child pornography."

    By Cecilia Kang  |  December 15, 2009; 12:16 PM ET
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