Baraboo leaders are working to make sexting a violation of city code, rather than a criminal offense, for minors.
On Monday, the City Council’s administrative committee voted 3-0 to forward the proposed ordinance to the full council. The ordinance would prohibit residents younger than 18 from sending sexually explicit photographs and videos.
The goal is to treat sexting as a city ordinance violation, rather than a referral to juvenile court, said Police Chief Mark Schauf.
“Kids are doing this and not thinking about what they’re doing,” he said.
Schauf said police are seeing incidents of juveniles sending and receiving explicit images proliferate. The incidents could be prosecuted as the distribution of child pornography. Making them a code violation, punishable by a fine and community service, could provide a wake-up call rather than referring a youth to the juvenile court system. Code violations are subject to the discretion of the city attorney.
Several Wisconsin cities have ratified ordinances addressing sexting in recent years. Reedsburg approved one in February, followed by Beaver Dam in June.
Alderman John Alt asked how the city would alert juveniles to the ordinance, if it’s adopted by the council. Schauf said police would work with Baraboo High School to let students know “what we’re doing to protect them and what they need to do to protect themselves.”
The ordinance forbids the sending and forwarding of images depicting nudity to minors. Such incidents aren’t considered violations if minors don’t solicit the images received, if they report such transmissions to school or law enforcement officials, or if they don’t transmit the images to a third party.
“They aren’t going to get into trouble for receiving an image,” Schauf said. “They’re going to get into trouble if they send that image to 10 of their friends.”