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Should Wisconsin re-examine its statutory rape laws?

We have previously written about the penalties associated with sex crimes. In addition to prison sentences and fines, those convicted of sex crimes must face the stigma of being listed on Wisconsin's sex offender registry.

Being listed on this registry may limit where you can live or prevent you from getting a certain job. At the very least, people on the sex offender registry are usually branded as outcasts in their community.

One common criticism of sex offender registries, though, is that they do not accurately differentiate between crimes. There are sex crimes such as statutory rape which are legally wrong yet which most would consider morally excusable. Should teens who have consensual sex with younger teens be branded as sex offenders?

For the answer to this, we can look to our neighbors to the east. Michigan has just passed a law that will keep "Romeo and Juliet" offenders off of the state's sex offender registry. This law will go into effect on July 1st and will only apply to statutory rape offenders convicted after that time.

However, there are some restrictions. The younger teen must be between the ages of 13 and 15, and the older teen cannot be more than four years older than his or her partner. These conditions must be met in order to stay off the sex offender registry.

Michigan's age of consent is still 16 years old, which is the same as in Wisconsin. This means that anyone younger than 16 cannot legally give consent to having sex.

State officials estimate that there are nearly 2,000 "Romeo and Juliet" offenders on the state's registry. Those who supported the bill say it will prevent a lifelong punishment for teens who have made a relatively-minor mistake.

Should such a law be adopted in Wisconsin? Consider that statutory rape is one of most common sex crimes in the state. A 17-year-old is considered an adult in Wisconsin. Should he be branded as a sex offender for engaging in consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend?

We have often posted that sex crimes are treated very seriously and punished severely. But there are times when the letter of the law seems to conflict with the intention of the law. Because sex crimes carry such severe consequences, perhaps we need to more clearly differentiate between these crimes and their punishments.

Source:, "State sex offender registry will stop listing Romeo and Juliet cases," Chris Christoff, 13 April 2011

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