With technological innovations and increased access to technology, youth are more likely to own and use cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices than ever before. Increased access to technology has benefits, but it also increases the risk of abuse. There is growing concern about electronic aggression—or cyberbullying—defined as any type of harassment or bullying (teasing, telling lies, making fun of someone, making rude or mean comments, spreading rumors, or making threatening or aggressive comments) that occurs through e-mail, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs), text messaging, and videos or pictures posted on websites or sent through cell phones.1
Mirroring the increase in youth accessing and using technology, the number of youth between ages 10 and 17 in 2005 who indicated they had been involved in cyberbullying was twice the number who had reported involvement in 1999-2000.2 Estimates of the number of youth who have been victims of electronic aggression and cyberbullying vary from 9 to 43 percent, depending on the definition of electronic aggression/cyberbullying used and the time period that youth are reporting about.3
The relationship between electronic aggression and teen dating violence has not been widely explored. Initial information gathered from interviews with 56 young adults (aged 18 to 21) who experienced teen dating violence suggests that technology plays an important role in intimate relationships, providing a new space for perpetration of a range of teen dating violence behaviors and influencing the privacy, autonomy, and safety of youth in relationships.4
In addition, a number of surveys and heightened media concern has focused on sexting. Sexting is defined in a number of different ways, but is “most commonly used to describe the creation and transmission of sexual images by minors” through technologies such as cell phones and the Internet.5 While many of the studies looking at the prevalence rates of sexting have proved inconsistent and included major flaws and limitations,6 two 2011 studies provide context for the rates of certain forms of youth sexting and the relationship between youth sexting and arrests.
A 2011 national survey of youth, ages 10 to 17, found that:
- A total of 9.6 percent of youth reported they had appeared in, created, or received sexually explicit (e.g., showed naked breasts, genitals, or bottom) or nearly nude images (e.g., youth wearing underwear or bathing suits, sexy poses with clothes on, and pictures focused on clothed genitals).
- Further, 2.5 percent reported they had created or appeared in images, with 1.3 percent of those identified as sexually explicit; 7.1 percent reported only receiving images, with 5.9 percent of those images identified as sexually explicit.
- About a quarter of youth who appeared in or created images (21 percent) or received images (25 percent) reported feeling very or extremely embarrassed, afraid, or upset.
- Romance was the most commonly reported reason for being involved in sexting, though pranks and attempting to start a relationship were also reported.
- Only a small portion of youth reported that they forwarded images on that they created, appeared in, or received.
The study suggests that there is substantial variation in the rates of sexting based on how it is defined.7
A second study looking at arrest rates for sexting found that in cases of youth-produced sexual images (youth 17 and under) handled by law enforcement, there are often “aggravating” circumstances (e.g., adult involvement or a minor involved in malicious, non-consensual, or abusive behavior) beyond the creation of and dissemination of sexual images. Further, the study found that arrests are unlikely in sexting cases when adults are not involved.8
While the role that technology plays in teen dating violence is still in large part unclear, initial research findings suggest that technology can be used to facilitate teen dating violence, and may provide additional challenges for efforts to prevent and minimize teen dating violence.9
1 Hertz & David-Ferdon, 2008
2 Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2006
3 Hertz & David-Ferdon, 2008; National Crime Prevention Center, 2007
4 Draucker & Martsolf, 2010
5 Lounsbury, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2011, p. 1
6 Lounsbury et al., 2011
7 Mitchell, Finkelhor, Jones, & Wolak, 2011
8 Wolak, Finkelhor, & Mitchell, 2011
9 Offenhauer & Buchalter, 2011
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