Why Isn’t Bestiality a Felony in Wisconsin?

This heinous crime isn’t a felony … yet.

Sterling Rachwal of Green Bay, who once wore a sinister handlebar moustache, has been in and out of legal trouble for molesting, injuring and straight-up raping other people’s horses since the 1980s. The details of these cases – his M.O. is to stake out a barn and sneak in late at night – are enough to shake one’s faith in humanity. So far, the remorseless Rachwal has skated by with only misdemeanor convictions as there’s no applicable felony under Wisconsin state law, unless he injures the animals more severely.

What is there to do about a problem like Sterling Rachwal, who received a sentence of probation in 2018? He’s terrorized Wisconsin horse owners for more than 30 years, particularly in northeastern Wisconsin, where many know how to spot his car. The horses he assaults are traumatized and later develop behavioral problems.

In response to the outcry, state Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), is sponsoring a bill to make bestiality a felony, which sounds pretty straightforward, but in a busy Legislature, thorny topics often get sidelined, especially when lawmakers have seen the legislation as designed to target only one man. The current version, approved in the state Senate in October, moved on to the Assembly, where it still hadn’t passed as of press time. Jacque said he remains hopeful that it will, although different versions have failed to pass in previous sessions. According to the Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center, out of 46 states that have outlawed bestiality, 25 of them treat it as a felony.

Activists paint a disturbing picture of a greater problem. According to Megan Nicholson, Wisconsin director for the Humane Society, the Wisconsin section of a now-defunct zoophilia site accumulated a large number of personal-style ads posted by people looking for animals or offering to share theirs. She notes that animal sexual abuse is also one of the strongest predictors of child sexual abuse. “This isn’t just about one person,” she says.

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s February issue. 

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.