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Penalties can be severe for Wisconsin teen sexting

Sexting laws have been enacted in several states. The legislation primarily ensures minors, who possess sexually explicit cellphone images or send them to other teens, avoid severe criminal charges and punishments. Laws don't entirely excuse sexting between underage individuals, but take into account the behavior may be more foolish than predatory.

Wisconsin has no sexting law, which can place juveniles in a precarious legal position. It is possible for teen sexting to lead to underage pornography charges and prosecution in an adult court. A convicted minor also might face adult consequences including prison time, fines and mandatory inclusion on a sex offender registry.

An out-of-state case has generated discussion in Wisconsin over the need for a sexting law. The case involves a high school football player and his girlfriend, accused of electronically exchanging explicit images when they were 16. Under that state's laws, as long as minors are involved, felony charges may apply even when sexting is consensual.

The girlfriend's charges have been reduced to a misdemeanor. However, the young athlete, now 17, faces harsh child exploitation and underage pornography charges. A conviction could force the teen onto a sex offender registry.

Wisconsin teens accused of sexting potentially could be charged with state or federal offenses for possession of underage pornography and related charges. Upon conviction, teens may suffer the same consequences as an adult. Among numerous other long-term penalties, a young person with a felony record may be denied financial aid for college and employment opportunities.

The lack of a state sexting law places the fate of some Wisconsin minors in the hands of prosecutors. Critics say fixing the problem involves creating specific laws that deal with a practice that is on the rise among teens. Parents may be horrified by news like this, making it more important than ever to have a legal representative on hand to provide advice when a minor is in trouble.

Source: WISC-TV, "Wisconsin teens can face felony charges for sexting," Matthew Simon, Sep. 11, 2015

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