‘Romeo and Juliet’ bill would remove teens from sex offender registry

‘Romeo and Juliet’ bill would remove teens from sex offender registry

A bipartisan proposal creates an exemption to Wisconsin’s sex offender registry for teenagers ages 15 to 18 who are convicted after having consensual sex.

State law makes it a crime for two people under the age of 18 to have sexual contact, regardless of consent. Republican Rep. Joel Kleefisch and Democratic Rep. Fred Kessler have written legislation that creates a new crime of “underage sexual activity” and lowers the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor.

“There is a big difference between a boyfriend and girlfriend having sex or sexual contact and someone who is seeking out a child to sexually assault,” Kleefisch said.

Other states have labeled it the “Romeo and Juliet” exemption. Kessler is not sure exactly how many teens who have engaged in consensual sex are on the registry.

“We are not condoning underage sexual conduct but we are also not naive to believe that it happened. In cases where it happens and it is consensual we think a judge should be able to decide if that person should have the rest of their life affected by being on the sex offender registry,” he said.

For teens, consent isn’t always clear, according to Erin Thornley-Parisi, executive director at the Dane County Rape Crisis Center. She’s wonders who the proposal would protect.

“If two teenagers are having sex and they are both say, ‘I really wanted this to happen’ — that it means it’s consensual, because it doesn’t always. There can still be power plays with a guy or a woman having more power over the other,” Parisi said.

The statewide coalition against sexual assault has not determined if they will support the bill, but Parisi believes the proposal’s focus is misguided

“They want to focus on sexual assault. They are focusing on the rights of offenders opposed to the rights of victims,” she said.

Kleefisch said 30 lawmakers have signed onto the bill since it began to circulate this month.