A new federal law aimed at prosecuting child pornographers has put Professor David DeMatteo’s 2014 study on teens’ sexting habits back in the news.
The Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in May, would set a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 15 years for activities that include using phones to exchange nude photos.
In response to the legislation, USA Today published an op-ed on June 9 arguing against the mandatory minimum sentences, citing a study DeMatteo wrote with ’14 alumna Megan Murphy and PhD candidate Heidi Strohmaier, which found that 43 percent of surveyed college students confirmed having sent or received sexually explicit text messages when they were under age 18.
The study, published in Sexuality Research and Social Policy, found that while teens commonly engaged in sexting, few recognized that they could face harsh legal penalties.
“Congress should follow the lead of some 20 states that have passed laws that specifically provide for less severe punishment — misdemeanor charges allowing for expungement, community service and counseling — when juveniles are found to have shared personal images,” the op-ed said.
DeMatteo is director of the JD-PhD Program in Law and Clinical Psychology.