Winnebago County prepares to launch sexting diversion program

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WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Earlier this month, Oshkosh City County passed a teen sexting ordinance. And on Tuesday night the Winnebago County Board approved a similar plan. With the ordinances in place, both communities will join other municipalities in Winnebago County to educate teens on the dangers of sexting, through a diversion program.

The numbers don't lie. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, 27 percent of teens are receiving sexts and 15 percent are sending them.

Bryan Wright with Reach Counseling says, "One of the last stories that we were informed of was 70 seventh graders that were sending and receiving photos."

The law says that's distribution of child pornography, a felony. But instead of charging teens with a felony, for sexting, communities in Winnebago County have adopted ordinances that require teens to go through a diversion program to keep their records clean.

"What we're trying to do is create an educational program to help them so that the students who are engaging in those types of behaviors are making better decisions," says Dep. Pete Ehlert from the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office.

Reach Counseling has developed the diversion program that Winnebago County communities will be using. The five week program is not meant to punish teens, but to get to the root of why they're sexting, show them why it's wrong, and the negative impact sending and receiving sexts can have on everyone involved.

According to Wright, "Those messages are really going to be breaking down how unhealthy it is to put our bodies before our minds or how unhealthy it is if I have to use my body to get somebody to recognize, acknowledge or notice me."

The diversion program will also get the families of the teens involved, and participants will be required to finish the class or face the consequences.

"We're really serious, we're not going to be messing around anymore. It's been happening for far too long," adds Wright.

The first diversion program class is set for April 30th and organizers say 15 teens will take part in the initial program.