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Romeo and Juliet Laws Wisconsin

March 21, 2024

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Wisconsin

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Wisconsin

Lots of teens have relationships in high school – it’s totally normal. But sometimes these relationships can get teens in trouble with the law if they’re intimate. That’s where “Romeo and Juliet” laws come in. These laws try to prevent teens from getting in trouble for dating someone a little younger than them.

The thing is, Wisconsin doesn’t have any Romeo and Juliet laws on the books. So what does this mean for teens and consent in the Badger State? Let’s break it down.

What are Romeo and Juliet Laws?

Romeo and Juliet laws are meant to protect teens from being charged with statutory rape for having consensual sex with a younger partner. Statutory rape is when someone over 18 has sex with someone under 18 – even if it’s totally consensual.

These laws basically say it’s not statutory rape if the couple is close enough in age. For example, in some states it’s legal for a 17 year old to have sex with a 15 year old. Makes sense, right? Teens date each other in high school all the time.

Why Doesn’t Wisconsin Have Them?

Some states have passed Romeo and Juliet laws to decriminalize teen relationships. But Wisconsin lawmakers haven’t put any on the books yet. Some people argue this can lead to overly harsh punishments.

For example, say a 19 year old is dating a 16 year old in Wisconsin. If they’re sexually active, the 19 year old could be charged with statutory rape. Even though it’s a consensual relationship, there’s no exception for close ages in WI law.

Defense lawyers and advocates have argued for Romeo and Juliet laws in WI. But so far there’s been no change to the statutory rape statutes.

What Are Wisconsin’s Consent Laws?

Wisconsin’s age of consent is 18. This means anyone 17 or under can’t legally consent to sex. Period. There are no close-in-age exemptions.

If you’re over 18, it’s statutory rape to have sex with anyone under 18. Even if you’re both in high school or the relationship is totally consensual. The legal age gap doesn’t matter under WI law.

What About Minors Having Sex?

It’s also illegal for two minors to have sex if there’s more than a 3 year age difference. So if a 17 year old and a 14 year old have sex, the 17 year old could be charged with sexual assault.

Some say this is too strict, since sex between teens isn’t uncommon. But again, WI law doesn’t make any age gap exceptions.

What Are the Punishments?

Statutory rape charges in WI depend on the ages involved:

  • Over 18 with someone 15 or under – Class C felony
  • Over 18 with someone 16 or 17 – Class A misdemeanor
  • Minors more than 3 years apart – Class A misdemeanor

Penalties can include fines, sex offender registration, and years in prison. It’s really serious.

Have There Been Any High Profile Cases?

A few cases have highlighted how strict WI’s consent laws are:

  • In 2005, 17 year old Korey Brunette spent 1 year in jail for having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend. The sex was consensual, but Korey was convicted of assault.[1]
  • In 2010, 18 year old Nicholas Ellefritz was charged with child enticement for starting a relationship with a 14 year old classmate. They never even had sex but the charges stood.[2]

Defense lawyers argued these teens weren’t predators, but got severe punishments anyway. Some say this shows why WI needs Romeo and Juliet laws.

What About LGBTQ Teens?

LGBTQ advocates argue consent laws unfairly punish gay and trans teens in relationships. These couples can’t get married, so they have no legal option for intimacy.

Banning consensual gay teen sex can be seen as discrimination. So some say Romeo and Juliet laws should include LGBTQ protections.[3]

The Bottom Line

Wisconsin takes a hard line on underage sex, even between consenting teens. Without Romeo and Juliet laws, high school students can face prosecution for normal relationship stuff.

Many say it’s time for WI to catch up and protect consensual teen couples from unfair prosecution. But for now, teens need to be extra cautious about the age of consent laws in the state.

This issue isn’t going away anytime soon. With more education and advocacy, hopefully Wisconsin lawmakers will reconsider the nuances of teen consent.


[1] Teen Could Face Charges for Having Sex With Girlfriend, 15

[2] Teen’s Sex Case Highlights Wi. Law

[3] Romeo Must Die: Challenging Statutory Rape Provisions for LGBTQ Youth

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