Grant County, Wisconsin, District Attorney Lisa Riniker has guaranteed that one local 6-year-old boy will have a series of awkward therapy sessions as an adolescent, and again as a middle-aged man—if he lives that long. In a less-rosy outcome, Riniker’s targeted kid just might succumb to the stress of life as a publically listed sex offender, and retreat from society, or even kill himself, before psychoanalysis has a chance to save him.
District Attorney Riniker is prosecuting a child, now 7, for a first-degree felony sexual assault that supposedly took place when he was 6. The boy’s alleged crime? His part in a play date with two 5-year-old siblings, a boy and a girl, that degenerated into a “butt doctor” party.
Judge Edward Leineweber found probable cause, reasoning that the boy needed only to have penetrated the girl and known she was under a certain age. ‘Even the most immature 6-year-old could appreciate these two concepts,’ wrote the judge.
Children can be disconcerting when they exhibit sexual traits. Even levelheaded, informed parents are liable to freak out when they stumble upon toddlers engaged in a playhouse exploration session. But for pure unsettling shock value, a child’s naked curiosity can’t beat adults acting out.
1) Mother knows distress: The prosecution of D, as Riniker’s perp has been designated, began in fall 2010. A mother entered the yard of D’s family and, according to court documents, spied her daughter “with her skirt and underpants around her ankles” and the boy sitting underneath her. The mother told investigators she suspected the boy of penetrating her daughter’s anus with his finger. The girl explained to her mother that the children were playing “butt doctor,” and told authorities that D had touched her buttocks, but only on the outside of her body. Family lawyers say that D had undergone enemas and rectal examinations for medical conditions prior to the play date, and that D claims he was “touched wrongly” by the girl’s brother. No charges have been filed against the brother.
Two weeks after leveling her initial charges, Riniker filed a follow-up petition accusing the 6-year-old of groping two teenage babysitters.
2) Lisa Riniker’s blind justice: In a petition for protection or services filed November 12, 2010, District Attorney Lisa Riniker alleged that D “did have sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 12.” Wisconsin law considers “intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body” to be sexual intercourse. Judge Edward Leineweber found probable cause to proceed with the petition, reasoning that the boy needed only to have penetrated the girl and known she was under a certain age. “Even the most immature 6-year-old could appreciate these two concepts,” wrote Judge Leineweber. In April 2011, Riniker claimed that the petition “isn’t about punishing [D]; it’s about making sure he gets the help he needs.” Lawyers representing D’s family contend that admitting guilt to the petition’s first-degree sexual assault accusations will force D to register as a sex offender once he turns 18. Two weeks after leveling her initial charges, Riniker filed a follow-up petition accusing D of groping two teenage babysitters, taking off his clothes, rubbing his body on their legs and attempting to kiss them. According to court records, Riniker subsequently offered to drop the babysitter allegations—if the boy signed off on the initial petition.
3) Parents will be parents. “From the beginning, it was our hope and our goal to work this out between the families and to talk and figure out what was happening privately,” the girl’s father told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We were not given that opportunity by the [boy’s] family.” For their part, the boy’s family was granted a restraining order against the girl’s parents after complaining of harassment and tailgating.
4) The stacked system. D’s parents, identified as Jennifer and Kurt D, have filed a lawsuit against Lisa Riniker, and Grant County Department of Social Services investigator Jan Moravits. The suit alleges that D has suffered “anxiety, depression, vomiting, crying and lack of sleep because of the investigation and prosecution” and claims that Riniker delivered a summons to the 6-year-old threatening him with jail for failure to appear. Riniker is also depicted implying that she will seek to remove the couple’s children from their custody if they refuse to sign a consent decree admitting guilt. Riniker’s prosecutorial zeal is not entirely inexplicable. The suit contends that the girl’s father is a highly placed, politically connected official in Grant County, and that social services investigator Jan Moravits, who is said to have accused D’s parents of witness tampering, is the girl’s aunt.
5) You’re never too young to be a sex criminal—for the rest of your life. “The legislature could have put an age restriction in the statute if it wanted to,” said District Attorney Riniker. “The legislature did no such thing.” The Wisconsin legislature is not alone in that perhaps intentional oversight. A 2007 report from Human Rights Watch found 11 states where teenagers must register as sex offenders, for life, if convicted of having sex with another teenager—even if no age difference exists between the teens. These laws have literally placed married couples on a public registry of sex offenders for having engaged in premarital sex with one another while under age 18. If District Attorney Riniker prevails in her campaign to criminalize D for his actions as a 6-year-old, at least he will be in good company.