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Students can face fines for sexting in Pewaukee

NOW: Students can face fines for sexting in Pewaukee

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PEWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) – The Village of Pewaukee is taking action to address the prevalence of sexting among minors by enacting an ordinance that allows police to issue citations for those caught exchanging nude photos or videos through electronic devices.

“The whole idea is to change children’s behavior,” said Chief Timothy Heier of the Pewaukee Police Department. “Get them to stop and make better choices in life.”

Sexting is not unique to the Village of Pewaukee.

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one in four young people have received a sext while one in seven have sent one.

Chief Heier said police in his department were investigating about one case a week, something that strained resources.

“It takes up many man-hours to investigate,” Heier told CBS 58.

Police said that most cases of sexting are consensual, but oftentimes a relationship between two minors may sour and lead to the distribution of explicit photos or videos for malicious reasons.

Police Sgt. Nate Wright added that the Waukesha District Attorney’s Office was not interested in pursuing charges for every case brought to them. That often meant perpetrators did not face repercussions.

Pewaukee’s School Resource Officer Julie Buddenhagen is credited with coming up with the idea for the ordinance to fine minors who are caught sexting, which was modeled after a similar ordinance in Stevens Point.

The ordinance fines a minor $438 for the first offense and $639 for the second offense. It’s a solution that police believe addresses community concerns.

“We were having victims and people that were a little aggravated that we didn’t have any real resolution to the problem,” said Sgt. Wright. “This is another tool in our toolbox.”

Mike Cady, the superintendent of the Pewaukee Schools, says the school district was in support of the ordinance and that there has been positive feedback from parents.

Julia Westphal is a parent in the Village of Pewaukee and applauds the effort.

“I’m really proud of Pewaukee to be one of the first to take [this issue] one,” Westphal said. “Our children don’t understand what they are doing is going to harm them the rest of their lives.”

Westphal says the fines create a repercussion that helps young people understand the consequences of their actions without having to go through the legal system and potentially face severe punishments like registering as a sex offender.

In Wisconsin, the exchanging of nude photos or videos of minors is considered child porn and there are currently no laws that directly address what happens when that exchange is between minors.

There is also a revenge porn law that was passed in 2014 that addresses the publishing of explicit photos or videos without a person’s consent. Police say if a more serious case develops involving minors, they are able to take steps to make sure it is handled properly.

“We still have an open relationship with the district attorney’s office where we can refer those cases,” Chief Heier said. “This [ordinance] is not preventing us from going further in cases that merit a more harsher sentence.”

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