Up until last year, any person in Wisconsin who had sexual contact with a child between the ages of 13 and 16 could be charged with a felony. But that law has changed.
Now, as long as one party is younger than 19 and the other is at least 15 years old — and the relationship is consensual — the crime could be considered a misdemeanor. And now some state lawmakers want people convicted under the previous law to be able to petition the court — to not only have the felony dropped, but also to remove their names from the sex offender registry.
Cindy Komorowski says that up until about six years ago, her family life was great.
“I, like all of you, had the typical loving American family. We celebrated the holidays and birthdays all together. We took family vacations every year. My husband and children took hunting trips with other families and close friends. And truly we were always there for each other,” Komorowski says.
But things changed in 2013. That’s when her son turned 18 and graduated from high school but continued to date his teenage girlfriend.
“He was charged, sentenced and served a year-and-a-half in jail and had two years of probation to fill. And he was charged with a second-degree sexual assault — a felony,” Komorowski says.
Even though her son was considered low to no risk to the public, she says he also had to enroll in classes with registered sex offenders.
He's now 25.
“He recently wanted to try to live on his own and he has been looking for an apartment close to home. This has been challenging as he’s been turned down multiple times due to his record,” Komorowski says.
She says she supported Wisconsin’s so-called Romeo and Juliet law, which lawmakers approved last year. The change allowed sexual contact between someone who is 15 and an 18-year-old to be considered a misdemeanor. She now says the law needs to be retroactive.
“Today in current state, my son would never have been charged with a second-degree felony ... nor would he have to be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. Other families such as mine won’t have to endure what we have. I am grateful for those families and hope that by me speaking has helped make that happen. But today I ask that you move the Trailor Bill forward so that my son can have the same opportunity,” Komorowski says.
Only one person at the hearing had concerns about the legislation — state Rep. Marisabel Cabrera, D-Milwaukee. She wants to know what happens if records are no longer available that would prove the relationship was consensual.
“In plea negotiations, they might have been charged with a higher offence and then they reduced it to possibly what it is now. Just wondering how that would be considered by the judge or how that’s going to impact the person that’s trying to petition for this remedy,” Cabrera says.
Supporters of the legislation say the will look into the concerns. Both the city of Milwaukee and the National Association for Social Workers registered in favor of the bill.
Editor's Note: Audio for this story was provided by Wisconsin Eye.