The objective of this website is not to impose biased viewpoints on our readers and make judgments based on their decisions to abide by the law. Rather, our mission is to provide accurate information about local and federal policy so that our readers may make informed decisions before engaging in sexual activities. We hope that negative consequences may be minimized (or eliminated) by providing such knowledge and happy, healthy relationships may flourish.This is an article specifically about statutory rape in the United States, although many other countries in the world have similar laws regarding sexual relations with children, young adults, and disabled persons. We encourage you to find out the specific laws in your country if you are interested.
Statutory rape refers to sexual relations involving someone who is legally incapable of consenting to sex. Typically statutory rape involves someone who is below the legal age of consent, however mentally and physically handicapped people are also considered incapable of giving consent under rape statutes in all states.3 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 If force is involved, many states prosecute the offender for child molestation or rape.2
Romeo and Juliet Laws
Some states address relationships where 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 of the 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
Remember, what constitutes statutory rape and its coexisting punishments is different state to state. Below is an example of California Penal Code 261.5: Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a Minor (formerly known as Statutory Rape):
“(a) Unlawful sexual intercourse is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator, if the person is a minor. For the purposes of this section, a "minor" is a person under the age of 18 years and an "adult" is a person who is at least 18 years of age.
(b) Any person who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is not more than three years older or three years younger than the perpetrator, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(c) Any person who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.
(d) Any person 21 years of age or older who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is under 16 years of age is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three, or four years”.1
Below is an example of a Romeo and Juliet statute from Texas Penal Code Section 22.011. Sexual Assault:
(e) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2):
(1) that the actor was the spouse of the child at the time of the offense; or
(2) that: (A) the actor was not more than three years older than the victim and at the time of the offense: (i) was not required under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, to register for life as a sex offender; or (ii) was not a person who under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, had a reportable conviction or adjudication for an offense under this section; and (B) the victim: (i) was a child of 14 years of age or older; and (ii) was not a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01.6
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 are over 15 years old, 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 victim/perpetrator profile. It is important to note that many cases of statutory rape go unreported. The 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 you to research statutory rape laws in your state or country so you can feel empowered to make informed decisions that promote happy, healthy relationships.
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Last Updated: 9 March 2016
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.