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Friday, 20 September 2019 15:24

State law still tough for "Romeo and Juliet"

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The authorities in every state agree that minors cannot legally consent to sexual activity, and therefore any sexual activity between an adult and a minor is statutory rape. Beyond that baseline however, the states vary widely in how their laws deal with the issues involved, and sometimes these laws change over time.

One area where Wisconsin law has changed recently is in the way it treats relationships between a minor and a young adult when they are close in age. Last year, the state enacted a law designed to somewhat roll back what critics said was an overly harsh treatment of these "Romeo and Juliet" relationships.

Every state has some law setting the "age of consent" for sexual activity. Some states put the age at 16, while others put it at 17. Wisconsin puts the age at 18. Furthermore, Wisconsin has special penalties for anyone who has sexual contact with a person under age 16.

Before the law was changed last year, anyone who had sexual activity with someone under 16 could be found guilty of a Class C felony and be forced to register as a sex offender. Under this rigid law, even a 16-year-old who had sex with someone who was six months younger could be convicted of a felony and forced to register as a sex offender.

The new law applies to sexual activity between a person age 18 or under and a person who was 15, 16 or 17 years old at the time. These situations may now be treated as underage sexual activity, a misdemeanor. People who are convicted of these charges are not automatically required to register as sex offenders, but the court may require them to do so in certain situations.

While the new law makes things somewhat easier for certain defendants, statutory rape charges remain very serious. Anyone who has been accused of statutory rape should speak with a defense attorney as soon as possible.

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