Statutory Rape

Statutory rape is a particular form of rape that occurs when an individual has a sexual encounter with someone else who has not yet reached the age of consent. Sexual relations with someone below the age of consent are always a violation of the law.

Consent

Typically, a defense to rape is that both participants consented to sexual intercourse. In the case of statutory rape, however, the law has determined that individuals who are younger than the age of consent are statutorily unable to consent to sex. For this reason, a sexual encounter with someone below the age of consent always occurs without consent, even if both individuals have stated that they agree to the encounter. This is somewhat counterintuitive, but essentially the younger participant is simply legally incapable of providing consent. Accordingly, a rape occurs.

The age of consent is determined by state law and varies. In many states, an individual must be 16 to consent. However, some states raise this to 17 or 18 years of age.  In a few states, such as Texas, the age of consent is determined by considering the relative ages of both individuals and their differential in age.  In Texas, the age of consent is 17, but the minimum age for sexual relations is 14 with an age differential of three years. This means that a 15-year-old could have sex with a 17-year-old, but not a 19-year-old.

Traditionally, statutory rape was considered to be a strict liability crime, meaning that the perpetrator’s knowledge or belief about the victim’s age was irrelevant. This meant that even if the victim told the perpetrator that she was 19 or 20, he or she could still be charged with statutory rape because the victim was actually under the age of consent. This remains the case in many states, but a few have adopted a defense that allows the perpetrator to argue that he or she reasonably believed that the victim was old enough to consent to sexual relations. Whether this defense is available will depend on the laws of your state.

Lack of Force or Coercion

Unlike the crime of rape, statutory rape does not require that the prosecutor show that the perpetrator engaged in force, coercion, or any other actions that suggest that the victim was not willing to voluntarily engage in sexual relations.  For this reason, statutory rape can occur even if both participants were willing and eager to have a sexual encounter. By virtue of the fact that the younger participant is legally unable to consent, age alone renders the act of sex a rape. This makes it imperative that individuals engaging in sexual relations be certain of the ages and identities of their partners.

Punishment for Statutory Rape

States criminalize statutory rape to varying degrees, and, depending on the circumstances of the rape, it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Typically, the younger the victim or the greater the degree of difference between the parties, the more likely that the perpetrator will be charged with a felony. If both parties are under the age of consent, such as two teenagers who engage in sex, some states provide for lesser penalties to be imposed.