By The Registry Trap . . . Yesterday, Governor Scott Walker signed 2017 Assembly Bill 414 (now 2017 Wisconsin Act 174), creating the brand new crime of Underage Sexual Activity. In a saner world, a statute specifically criminalizing consensual sex between teenagers wouldn’t be good news, but that’s not the world we live in.
As you already know if you’ve read Robert’s story, his conviction for that very same act carries a much uglier name: 2nd Degree Sexual Assault of a Child. It’s also a registry offense. In addition, that crime was a felony, and a registry offense.
As of March 30 (one day after today’s publication of the Act), sex with a “child” who has attained the age of 15 will, if the actor is under the age of 19:
- Be known as Underage Sexual Activity rather than 2nd Degree Sexual Assault of a Child
- Be a Class A misdemeanor rather than a Class C felony
- Carry a maximum sentence of 9 months in jail, rather than up to 40 years in prison
- Not require sex offender registration and reporting, unless it is necessary in the interest of public protection
While the more reasonable model is to provide an exception to the prohibition on sex with a minor for age peers, this change represents a significant–and, for many people, life-altering–improvement.
If this law had been in effect in 1999, Robert would not have a felony conviction today, and would be eligible for small business loans and other opportunities. He would have been incarcerated for no more than 9 months–less than 1/5 of the time he served. That time would have been served in a county jail rather than a state prison.
He would never have been required to register as a sex offender, and could have developed an entirely different relationship with his stepdaughter and nieces, since he would have been free to take them to parks and carnivals, attend school events, and otherwise play a natural role in their lives.