Statutory Rape in America

What is Statutory Rape?

Statutory rape is defined as sexual contact with a minor. Typically, statutory rape refers to a legal adult engaging in sexual activity someone under the age of consent. Statutory rape differs from other types of rape and child molestation because there is no requirement of force. Statutory rape can involve underage participants who willingly engage in sexual activities. However, because those under the age of consent cannot legally give consent to participate in sexual relations, the act is a crime whether or not force was involved.2 Statutory rape is illegal in order to prevent adults from pursuing a sexual relationship with a mentally immature minor and to protect minors from being exploited.

Legal Consequences of Statutory Rape

The legality of statutory rape depends on each state’s laws. If force is involved, many states prosecute the offender for child molestation or rape and the consequences are much more severe. Most states have differing laws depending on their definition of the age of consent for both individuals involved in the sexual act. The age of consent refers to the age at which a person is legally deemed mentally mature enough to consent to sexual activity.

Historically, cases involving an adult female engaging in sexual activity with a minor male were not taken as seriously as cases involving an adult male engaging in sexual activity with a minor female. Although both cases are equally illegal, many states are now treating both situations with equal severity. Most states require a jail sentences along with a fine if someone is convicted of statutory rape. The offender is also typically forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives2.

Issues with Statutory Rape Laws

Many states define statutory rape as any sexual contact with a minor, regardless of the age of the offender. Therefore some issues arise when the minor and offender are close in age. For example, this definition may negatively affect partners who are respectively 17 and 18 years old. This also means that two minors engaging in sexual contact may also each be prosecuted for statutory rape. There have been cases where minors were convicted of engaging in statutory rape with another minor and forced to register on the sex offender registry for life. Many other states have also established “close in age exemptions” to avoid this situation. Other issues stemming from statutory rape cases are instances where the minor has lied about their own age by claiming to be legal, either by word of mouth or through the use of a fake ID. For example, there have been cases where a person was convicted of statutory rape when they had a sexual interaction with a minor who they met in a bar that validated the minor’s fake ID.2

Romeo and Juliet Laws

Some states address relationships in which both individuals are below the age of consent or where the age of the offender is close in age to the minor, in so called "Romeo and Juliet" laws. Romeo and Juliet clauses may prevent or lessen the severity of the penalties for sexual acts that occurred between consenting individuals who are close in age.4 Romeo and Juliet provisions vary considerably state by state. The age range covered by Romeo and Juliet provisions is typically between two to four years. In some states, a Romeo and Juliet provision can only apply if the youngest partner has reached a certain age, usually 15 (post-puberty). The state may also require the older individuals to be under a certain age, such as 21.4

Romeo and Juliet provisions do not protect an older individual accused of abusing a relationship that involves the imposition of authority over a younger person; for example, a relationship between a teacher and their student or a coach and an athlete on their team. Romeo and Juliet provisions also do not apply to individuals accused of sexual acts that involve violence or threat of violence.4

Statutory Rape Laws by State

The criteria that constitute statutory rape and its coexisting punishments are different from state to state. Each state has its own legal definition of the age of consent, ranging from 16-18. Some laws also do not have “close in age exemptions.” Below is a list of some states’ specific laws regarding statutory rape.6

Alabama

The legal age of consent in Alabama is 16 years old. Alabama does have close in age exemptions that allow a person up to age 18 to have sex with a person aged 12-16. If a person over 18 has sex with a minor under the age of 16, they can be charged with statutory rape. A person convicted of statutory rape may receive up to a 20 year prison sentence.

Arizona

The legal age of consent in Arizona is 18 years old. Arizona has Romeo and Juliette laws that allow a person to engage in sexual activities with someone younger than 18 if the offender is under 19 years of age or currently enrolled in high school, while also being less than 2 years older than their partner. Offenders can receive up to life in prison depending on the age difference between them and the minor.

California

The age of consent in California is 18 years of age. California does not have close in age exemption laws, therefore all sexual activity with a minor is illegal. The degree of punishment depends on the age difference between the minor and adult. A person can receive up to a 15 year prison sentence.

Colorado

The legal age of consent in Colorado is 17 years old. Colorado has close in age exemption laws that allow 16-17 years olds to engage in sexual activity with someone less than ten years older than them with no legal consequences. Minors under 15 are also legally allowed to engage in sexual activity with a person who is 15-19 years old. Another legal defense that may be used to avoid a sentence of statutory rape is allowed when the minor and their older partner are married. Despite the age of consent being 17, child prostitution laws are still applicable.

District of Columbia (D.C.)

The legal age of consent in D.C. is 16 years old. The District of Columbia has Romeo and Juliette laws that allow minors to engage in sexual activity with a partner less than 4 years older. If convicted of statutory rape in D.C., the offender can receive up a sentence up to life in prison.

Florida

The age of consent in Florida is 18 years old. Florida does have Romeo and Juliette laws that allow 16-17 year olds to legally engage in sexual activities with a partner as old as 23 years of age. An offender can receive up to 15 years in prison if convicted of statutory rape.

Georgia

The legal age of consent in Georgia is 16 years old. Georgia does not have Romeo and Juliette laws. Any sexual activity with a minor under 16 years old is illegal. However, if the offender is under 19 years old and less than 4 years older than the minor, the charges constitute a misdemeanor, not a felony.

Hawaii

The legal age of consent in Hawaii is 16 years old. Hawaii has close in age exemptions that allow 14-15 year olds to engage in sexual activities with a partner less than 5 years older. Hawaii only has one possible criminal charge for statutory rape cases; sexual assault of a minor under 14 years old. This charge carries a sentence up to 20 years.

Illinois

The age of consent in Illinois is 17 years old. Once a person reaches 17 years old, they can legally consent to all sexual activities. However, if their partner has is in  position of power over them, then the legal age of consent is raised to 18 years old. This prevents minors from being taken advantage of by people who may hold a position of power over them. Illinois does not have Romeo and Juliette laws. Therefore, any sexual activity with a minor under the age of 17 is unlawful and can result in a conviction of statutory rape.

Indiana

The legal age of consent in Indiana is 16 years old. Close in age exemption laws exist that allow minors ages 14-15 to engage in sexual activity with partners under 18 years old. The age of consent is raised to 18 years of age if their partner is in a position of authority. A person can use their lack of knowledge of the minor’s age as a defense if there was valid reason to believe that the minor was over 16, if they are at least 4 years older, or if they are in a relationship with the minor. However these can only be used a defense, so it is possible that the offender will still be found guilty. If found guilty of statutory rape, the offender may receive up to 30 years in prison.

Louisiana

The legal age of consent in Louisiana is 17 years old. Louisiana does not have close in age exemptions. Any sexual activity with a minor under 17 is illegal, unless the partners are married. Statutory rape sentences vary depending on the relative ages of the offender and minor. The most serious charge, aggravated rape, can carry a death sentence.

Massachusetts

The legal age of consent in Massachusetts is 16 years old. Massachusetts does not have Romeo and Juliette laws. Any sexual activity with a minor under 16 years old is illegal. The age of consent can also be raised to 18 if the minor is a virgin. If convicted of statutory rape, an offener may be sentenced to life in prison.

Michigan

The age of consent in Michigan is 16 years old. There are no close in age exemptions in Michigan. The age of consent is raised to 18 when the partner is in a position of authority, like a boss or teacher. A statutory rape conviction in Michigan can result in up to 10 years in prison.

Mississippi

The age of consent in Mississippi is 16 years old. Any sexual activity with a minor under the age of 16 is illegal. Mississippi does have Romeo and Juliette laws that allow minors under the age of 16 to participate in sexual activities if their partner is a spouse or has a 36 month age difference. The severity of a statutory rape conviction depends on the age of the offender. Offenders can receive up to a 30 year prison sentence for violating this law.

Nevada

The age of consent in Nevada is 16 years old. Nevada does not have Romeo and Juliette laws, therefore any sexual act with a minor under 16 years old is considered unlawful and may result in a statutory rape conviction. The severity of statutory rape convictions depend on the age of the offender and the sexual act. Statutory rape convictions in Nevada can result in punishments as severe as life in prison without the possibility of prole.

New York

The age of consent in New York is 17 years old. There are no Romeo and Juliette laws, therefore any sexual act with a minor under 16 years old is considered unlawful and may result in a statutory rape conviction. The severity of statutory rape convictions dependss on the age of the offender and the act. Not knowing the minor’s age is not a legal defense in a court. A guilty verdict can carry up to a 25 year prison sentence.

Oregon

The age of consent in Oregon is 18 years old and there are no Romeo and Juliette laws. Any sexual activity with a minor is illegal and may result in a conviction of statutory rape. The sentencing depends on the age of the offender. The older the offender, the heavier sentence they will receive.

Pennsylvania

The legal age of consent in Pennsylvania is 16 years old. Pennsylvania has Romeo and Juliette laws in place that allow 16-17 year olds to legally consent to engage in sexual activity with one another. Minors ages 13-15 may also engage in sexual activities with a partner less than 4 years older. However, a person engaging in sexual activities with a minor ages 13-15 may be prosecuted for other charges even if they are less than 4 years older due to another law. If found guilty of statutory rape, the offender may receive up to 20 years in prison.

Tennessee

The legal age of consent in Tennessee is 18 years old. Close in age exemptions exist for minors ages 13-17 only if their partners are within 4 years of age. If convicted of statutory rape I Tennessee, the offender can receive up to a 60 year prison sentence. Consequences may vary depending on the age difference between the minor and offender.

Texas

The age of consent in Texas is 17 years of age. There are no close in age exemption laws. Any sexual activity with a person under the age of 17 is illegal. A defense can be used if the person is less than three years older than the minor. Any sexual relationships between a school employee and a student is prohibited. If convicted of statutory rape in Texas, a person can receive up to a life prison sentence.

Utah

The legal age of consent in Utah is 18 years old. Utah has close in age exemptions that allow 16-17 year olds to participate in sexual activities with someone up to 7 years older than them. It also allows people 7-10 years older than the minor to participate in sexual activities if they had no reasonable knowledge of the minor’s age. If an offender violates the law, they can receive up to a life sentence in prison.

Washington

The legal age of consent in Washington is 16 years old. The age of consent is raised to 18 when a partner is from the same foster family. It is also raised to 18 when their partner is in a position of authority, like a teacher, or when the partner is more than five years older. Washington does not have close in age exemptions laws and a guilty verdict can carry up to a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Statistics on Statutory Rape

The following statistics are based on an analysis of the FBI's National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) master files containing reports from law enforcement agencies in 21 states between 1996 and 2000.5 While we recognize that these statistics do not contain the most recent,  they are the most comprehensive analysis of statutory rape incidences available. These numbers have likely fluctuated with the introduction of new provisions to many states' statutory rape statutes, however, these statistics give us a good idea of the victim/perpetrator profile. It is important to note that many cases of statutory rape go unreported. The following statistics are based only on cases reported to law enforcement agencies included in the NIBRS files.

  • Most (95%) of statutory rape victims were female.
  • Regardless of gender, almost 60% of victims were age 14 or 15.
  • The median age difference between female offenders and their male statutory rape victims was 9 years. The median age difference between male offenders and their female statutory rape victims was 6 years.
  • More than 99% of the offenders of female statutory rape victims were male.
  • Of all offenders of male statutory rape victims, 94% were female.
  • Of all offenders of female statutory rape victims, 18% were younger than age 18.
  • Of all offenders of male statutory rape victims, 70% were age 21 and older, while 45% of offenders of female statutory rape victims were 21 and older.
  • An arrest occurred in 42% of statutory rape incidents with the probability of arrest declining as victim age increased.
  • Three out of every ten statutory rape offenders were the boyfriend or girlfriend of the victim.

Statutory rape is a state sex crime than can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor offense. Depending on the state laws and circumstances, punishments can include incarceration, fines, probation, and/or registry as a sex offender.2 We encourage people to research statutory rape laws in their state or country so that they can feel empowered to make informed decisions that promote happy, healthy relationships.

Resources

If you believe you, your child, your friend, or someone else you know has been a victim of statutory rape, please contact your local police department as soon as you re able. You can also call the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) 24 hour hotline at 800-656-HOPE.

Concluding Remarks

Statutory rape is a serious legal matter than can have lifelong consequences. Laws regarding statutory rape vary by state, so it is important to be aware of the law in each particular state before engaging in sexual activities with a minor. Many issues may arise from statutory rape cases and it is important to be as knowledgeable as possible and to always receive affirmative consent.

References

1. "Chapter 1. Rape, Abduction, Carnal Abuse of Children, and Seduction - California Penal Code Section 261.5 - California Attorney Resources - California Laws." Chapter 1. Rape, Abduction, Carnal Abuse of Children, and Seduction - California Penal Code Section 261.5 - California Attorney Resources - California Laws. N.p., 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

2. "Statutory Rape." Findlaw. Thomson Reuters, 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

3. "Statutory Rape." TheFreeDictionary.com. Farlex, 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

4. "What Are Romeo and Juliet Laws?" FreeAdvice. Advice Comapny, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.

5. Snyder, Howard N., and Karyl Troup-Leasure. Statutory Rape Known to Law Enforcement. Rep. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Aug. 2005. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.

Last Updated: 22 October 2017.

 

Category: