6-year old boy commits sexual assault?
Grant County authorities have accused a 6-year-old boy of first-degree sexual assault of a child for allegedly playing “doctor” with a 5-year-old girl in September.
The case, which is plowing new legal ground in Wisconsin, calls into question when a child’s act can be considered criminal — particularly when it involves behavior some experts say is normal for children that age — and who makes that determination.
Under state law, the boy is too young to be charged with a crime or in a juvenile delinquency petition, the equivalent of a criminal complaint for juveniles. Instead, prosecutors have included the allegations in a petition seeking protection or services for the boy. Such petitions are typically used by parents or authorities to identify children under 10 who need services to change inappropriate behavior.
If a judge finds the boy committed a delinquent act, the court can order that he and his family receive services such as counseling or other treatment.
A second petition accusing the boy of disorderly conduct alleges that last summer he repeatedly grabbed the breasts of two teenage baby sitters, took off his clothes and rubbed himself on their legs and tried to kiss them.
The boy’s lawyer, Stephen Eisenberg of Madison, called the allegations “crazy” and said he has never heard of a 6-year-old being accused of first-degree sexual assault. The boy is now 7.
At a court hearing last week, Grant County District Attorney Lisa Riniker said the case “isn’t about punishing (the boy); it’s about making sure he gets the help he needs.”
Riniker and county Social Services Director Fred Naatz declined to comment on the case outside of court, citing confidentiality rules.
Richland County Circuit Court Judge Edward Leineweber, who is handling the case, said during the hearing the case presents a thorny legal problem.
“You’re going to have to prove a criminal act. If he was 2, would we be here?” he asked the prosecutor. “How are we going to figure out what side of the line (the boy) falls on?”
Eisenberg said the boy, who has a developmental disorder for which he is receiving treatment, likely is below the maturity level of a typical 6- or 7-year-old.
Dispute over what happened
Earlier this month, the judge granted a State Journal request for access to juvenile court records and proceedings in the case. State law prohibits identifying the children or families involved.
According to the petition for protection or services filed Nov. 12, the girl’s mother found her daughter in the boy’s yard “with her skirt and underpants around her ankles” and the boy sitting underneath her, penetrating her with his finger. The petition alleges the boy “did have sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 12.”
State law defines sexual intercourse, in part, as “intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body.”
The girl told her mother they were playing “butt doctor” and told authorities the boy only touched her on the outside of her body, court documents state. A third child, a 5-year-old boy, also was with them, but he did not touch her inappropriately, the girl said.
Judge Leineweber refused to dismiss the petitions, saying the relevant part of the sexual assault allegation is the mother’s observations.
The boy needed only to have penetrated the girl and known she was under a certain age, he wrote, adding, “Even the most immature 6-year-old could appreciate these two concepts.”
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