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Should 'Romeos' be treated less like rapists?: Part I

Sexual acts committed by minors (and near-minors) with other minors can be complicated business. Statutory rape provisions in Wisconsin state law and state laws throughout the nation allow minors and very young adults to be prosecuted as statutory rapists, even if their alleged sex crimes were committed with a consensual partner of nearly the same age.

The concept of statutory rape is grounded in the idea that individuals below a certain age aren't fully capable of consenting, even if they verbally agree to engage in certain acts and seem physically willing. Statutory rape laws exist to protect young people from being influenced by more mature (or at least older) persons.

And yet, some young offenders truly believe that their partner is capable of consent, and may so close to them in age that the distinctions between the partners seem negligible. These so-called "Romeos" are often treated as rapists under Wisconsin law, but many question whether they should be.

In particular, state Rep. Roger Rivard has long asserted that statutory rape laws essentially "create" criminals. He has stated that he favors passage of a "Romeo and Juliet" bill aimed at helping to protect teenagers from being prosecuted as statutory rapists in many cases.

Rivard made a comment some months ago on this issue that was widely criticized by the media and general public, and rightly so. However, his concern for the rights of teenagers is not necessarily misplaced. In cases where teenagers are having sex with other teenagers, one will often be considered a victim while the other will be treated as a predator, even if their ages vary by only a few months.

Please check back in later this week as we continue our discussion on this important issue.

Source: Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, "Legal system separates Romeos from rapists," Mike Nichols, Oct. 19, 2012

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