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When Is Sexting Illegal in Wisconsin?

For something that is sometimes illegal, sexting is popular.

According to research by the Cyberbullying Research Center, about 14% of middle and high school students have sent explicit images, and 23% have received such images. When looking at adults, more than 80% admitted to sexting in the prior year, according to the American Psychological Association.

Despite its prevalence, sexting between adults is sometimes a crime, and it is always illegal when a minor is involved – even if both parties are underage. Sexting crimes have serious consequences in Wisconsin.

No Romeo & Juliet Law in Wisconsin

Some U.S. states have Romeo and Juliet laws that allow a person to have consensual sexual relations with a minor as long as the minor is within a few years of the older person. The age difference is usually limited to 3 or 4 years. For example, an 18-year-old would not be tried for statutory rape for having consensual sex with their 16-year-old sweetheart.

Wisconsin does not have a Romeo and Juliet law. This distinction is important not only in cases of statutory rape. Sexting that involves two minors – even if it is consensual – is a crime under the state’s pornography laws. In sex crimes, defendants as young as 17 will be tried as an adult. Convicted minors can be sentenced to up to 3.5 years in custody and a fine of up to $1,000. Offenders as young as 15 can be tried as an adult. Offenders between 13 and 15 are always tried in juvenile court.

Exposing a Child to Harmful Material

There are no specific teen sexting statutes in Wisconsin. Instead, the state charges under child pornography laws.

Someone who allegedly sexts with a minor can be charged with violating Wi. Stat. Ann. § 948.11. The law defines “harmful description or narrative account” as any “explicit and detailed description or narrative account of sexual excitement, sexually explicit conduct, sadomasochistic abuse, physical torture or brutality that, taken as a whole, is harmful to children.”

Harmful material such as nudity, sexually explicit content, and brutality depicted through any of the following:

  • Pictures/Photographs
  • Drawings
  • Sculptures
  • Films/Videos

Images or narratives are harmful if they appeal to a sexual or morbid interest in children and lack educational or artistic value for children.

Other potential charges for sexting with a minor include possession of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a child, among others. These crimes are felonies. Some charges carry a minimum of three years in prison and up to 40 years and a maximum fine of $100,000.

A former Winnebago County high school teacher who sent inappropriate messages and photos to former students was charged in October 2022 with three felonies: child enticement for prostitution, soliciting an intimate representation from a minor, and exposing a child to harmful material. The child enticement charge alone carries up to a 25-year prison sentence.

Adult Sexting Can Be a Crime

Racy messages sent between two consulting adults are not illegal. However, situations can be the makings of a crime. For example, a person sending a nude photo of someone without their consent to a third party is illegal. Graphic photos sent by one adult to another can also be harassment or stalking if the images are unwanted by the recipient.

Accused of Illegal Sexting? Call Attorney Cherella

At the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella, our criminal defense team tackles high-level felony offenses. With 20 years of experience as both a defense attorney and prosecutor, Attorney Cherella has a deep understanding of how to represent clients, no matter how challenging the case may be.

When you need strong criminal defense counsel, contact Anthony Cherella. He is available 24/7. Call (414) 882-8382 for a consultation.