Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor and Kimberly J. Mitchell of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., sent a survey to a stratified national sample of 2,712 law enforcement agencies, followed by detailed telephone interviews with investigators.
U.S. law enforcement agencies handled an estimated 3,477 cases of youth-produced sexual images during 2008 and 2009.
Two-thirds of the cases involved an aggravating circumstance beyond the creation or dissemination of a sexual image. An adult was involved in 36 percent of the aggravated cases, and 31 percent of the cases involved a minor engaged in malicious, non-consensual or abusive behavior.
Arrests occurred in 62 percent of cases in which an adult was involved, 36 percent of aggravated youth-only cases, and 18 percent of cases involving only youth with no aggravating elements.
Most of the images were distributed by cellphone only, and did not reach the Internet. Sex offender registration applied in only a few unusual cases, the study said.