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New ordinance imposes fines on minors to stem epidemic of sexting in suburban Waukesha County

The term “Sexting” has become a familiar word in recent years as technology has infused unhealthy social habits. While the act of sending and receiving nude photos via an electronic device can create uncomfortable situations for adults, it can cause a great deal of havoc for teens.

There are state laws on the books to deal with the issue, but the village of Pewaukee is taking matters into its own hands. Authorities have said that police officers are dealing with more sexting cases than ever between students. As a result, an ordinance was recently passed that would allow hundreds of dollars to be levied against kids sending nude photos.

Under Wisconsin law, teens who sext could face child pornography charges, which may be heard in juvenile court where judges have more flexibility with sentencing. But now, officials in Pewaukee have another avenue — a municipal fine.

“It’s just like another tool in the toolbox. We can issue a municipal citation for $439 for the first offense and $628 for a second offense,” said Timothy Heier, Pewaukee Police Chief.

He said the ordinance, which was passed in early August, was drafted by the police department after the school resource officer noticed an uptick in sexting complaints.

“Two people consensually exchanged photographs — both minors. People found out about it. It was kind of a breakup. There were also situations of threats being made because people were now talking disparaging about other people. Friends knew about it and we actually had to interview about 12 people regarding one consensual encounter between minors sending photographs.” – Chief Timothy Heier

Heier said the ordinance could be enforced once complaints are made either in school or out.

“We get walk-in complaints at our front counter. We get complaints like this where somebody hears about this, parents find it on their kids’ phones and so forth, and we investigate that way,” Heier explained.

If a family cannot afford to pay the fines there are other options, like community service. The ordinance is modeled after one in Stevens Point. As far as parents are concerned, no citations have yet been written.

“They were very happy that we were proactive and talking to parents. It seems like this is something that they’re very concerned about and that in some cases they have heard or know about other kids that have passed on other photographs that were never brought to the attention of police,” Heier added. “And they’re very happy with the fact that we’re taking an approach that hasn’t been done before in the village.”

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