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High school students face sexting enforcement

  • Birdsall Obear

Police officers were called to Pewaukee High School in southeast Wisconsin at least once a week over the last few years because of alleged "sexting" among students. However, the state does not have laws addressing these types of sex offenses and, as a result, the Village of Pewaukee adopted an ordinance to combat this behavior.

Sexting usually occurs between two consensual people. However, relationships end and one of students in that relationship may share that sexually explicit photograph with other people. The high school in Waukesha County has 800 students. Police were routinely called to deal with teenagers transmitting explicit images of students. According to local police, the volume of calls put a strain on their resources.

The state does not have explicit laws against sexting. Instead, law enforcement officials utilize Wisconsin's child pornography laws, which criminalizes the possession or viewing of a visual depiction of a child engaged in sexual conduct. 

Being prosecuted under child pornography laws, however, exposes minors to possible prison sentences and registering as sex offenders. Registration as a sex offender can cause a lifetime of psychological and traumatic stress because registration can impose barriers on employment, housing and education.

Students in grades 9 through 12 engaged in sexting could face fines up to $628 under the ordinance at issue. It is hoped that this will discourage this behavior without minors facing the consequences of a child pornography conviction. Sexting is unexpectantly prevalent. A 2012 study in Texas revealed that 28 percent of 948 students sent a naked image of themselves while 57 percent claimed that they were asked for one. Hawaii, New York, Pennsylvania and South Dakota are among the states that have anti-sexting laws.

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