A general definition of statutory rape is “sexual intercourse with a person who is below the statutory age of consent.”1 The FBI Uniform Crime Reporting defines it as: “Non-forcible sexual intercourse with a person who is under the statutory age of consent.”2
Statutory rape laws become more complex when consensual sex involves two minors, when there is a certain age difference between minors, the adult is close in age to a minor, or if the sex was non-heterosexual. Some laws that exempt some statutory rape punishment for consensual underage sex include “Romeo and Juliet” laws, for the teenage Shakespearean couple from the play by the same name, or close-in-age laws, between minors and between adults and minors.
Laws vary by state as do the ages of consent. In some states the age of consent may be different for males and females. There are also ages set where a minor is not able to consent to sex with anyone.
Some states allow some adults to marry minors without being penalized for statutory rape.
The sourced articles below should provide you more information on statutory rape.
Footnotes: 1. merriam-webster.com, accessed 10/15/2018; 2. fbi.gov, updated 2017, accessed 10/17/2018
- What Is The Legal Age Of Consent In The United States?
“The legal age of consent varies from 16 to 18 years old from state to state across the United States. In some states, a ‘close in age exemption’ exists to decriminalize consensual sex between two individuals who are both under the age of consent.”
AgeOfConsent.net, ageofconsent.net, accessed on 10/17/2018
- Which States Have Romeo And Juliet Laws?
“Romeo and Juliet laws provide an exception to situations involving a sexual relationship between two young people that could be considered a sex crime. These laws allow for a person to successfully defend themselves from being convicted of statutory rape if their age and that of their partner falls within the acceptable age difference defined by the law.”
Law Offices of Ned Barnet, nedbarnett.com, accessed on 10/15/2018
- What Romeo And Juliet Laws Mean For Teens
“Recent changes in the laws governing consensual sex between minors or an adult 18 years of age and a minor 14-16 years of age have acknowledged that this intimacy is not the same as molestation. The new laws, named ‘Romeo and Juliet laws’ after Shakespeare’s tragic teenage lovers, attempt to correct overly harsh penalties and prison terms meted out over the years. In 2007, these laws went into effect in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, and Texas.”
Linda Lowen, thoughtco.com, 9/9/2018
- 5 Important Stories That Have Nothing To Do With The Civility Debate
“This year, two states have banned marriage for anyone younger than 18 years old in all cases. Delaware became the first state to do so in May. New Jersey followed suit last week. However, marriage for someone under 18 years old is legal in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The federal age of consent is 18 years old, but states allow exemptions if there is parental consent or judge approval. The vast majority of child marriages involve underage girls marrying older men, according to the advocacy group Unchained at Last. Experts decry such marriages as sexual exploitation.”
Ryan Connelly Holmes, Michael Rios, Joshua Barajas, pbs.org, 6/26/2018
- 20 Years Of Advocating For LGBTQ Youth In Out-Of-Home Care
“One area of recent advocacy is around sex offender laws, which disproportionately affect LGBTQ young people. According to a 2016 report, Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People, young people who have relationships with people of their same sex are at risk for criminalization because their sexual behavior is considered less acceptable by family members, school officials, and police. In addition, Romeo and Juliet laws—which lessen or decriminalize statutory rape crimes when the individuals are less than a few years apart in age—sometimes contain gendered language, meaning that LGBTQ young people are subject to serious criminal penalties for consensual sexual activity. When these young people are required to register as sex offenders, it affects their ability to access education, housing, employment, and welfare for the rest of their lives.”
M. Currey Cook and Cathren Cohen, americanbar.org, 4/17/2018
- Child Marriage Is Still Legal In The US
“Today southern states like Alabama, Kentucky and West Virginia have among the highest rates of minor marriage in the nation. They are also joined by Idaho and other rural states in the West. These states share high rates of poverty and are home to religious conservatives who often see marriage as the solution to teenage sex and premarital pregnancy. Some even condone marriage when it results from statutory rape. In many cases, district attorneys have been willing to waive prosecution if a girl’s statutory rapist agrees to marry her and her parents are also supportive.”
Nicholas Syrett, Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas, theconversation.com, 12/11/2017
- Married Young: The Fight Over Child Marriage In America
“Almost 90 percent of minors who married were girls. Most of them were 16 or 17 years old. In rare instances, however, children as young as 12 years old were granted marriage licenses in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina. Only a fraction of these marriages involved two minors. Most of the time, a minor’s spouse was 18, 19 or in his early 20s. Nearly 500 minors were permitted to marry partners in their 40s, 50s and even over 60.”
Anjali Tsui, pbs.org, 9/14/2017
- Supreme Court Rules In Statutory Rape Deportation Case
“The US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday … that in cases of statutory rape where sexual intercourse is criminalized based solely on the ages of the participants, the federal definition requires the age of the victim to be less than 16. In Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions … the court’s definition of what age constitutes ‘sexual abuse of a minor’ was the deciding factor on whether the petitioner, a citizen of Mexico and a permanent resident of the US, would face removal proceedings. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) … ‘makes removable ‘[a]ny alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony, … including ‘sexual abuse of a minor,’ … The court reasoned that because a different statute, … was ‘amended to protect anyone under age 16 in the same omnibus law that added sexual abuse of a minor to the INA’ that Congress intended the age of consent to be 16. Additionally the INS listed sexual abuse of a minor as an ‘aggravated’ felony alongside ‘murder’ and ‘rape,’ suggesting that it ‘encompasses only especially egregious felonies.'”
Autumn Callan, jurist.org, 5/30/2017
- Shakespeare And Sexting: Reconsidering Penalties For Teen Sexual Activity
“Tough penalties for teens convicted of illegal sexual behavior were often written into statute over the past 20 years as part of broader efforts by state legislatures to protect children from predators, following federal laws that called for better tracking of sexual offenders. But more recently, steep penalties for sexual contact between teens have made some prosecutors reluctant to bring charges, said Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.”
Rebecca Beitsch, pewtrusts.org, 5/2/2017
- Age Of Consent: How Old Is Old Enough for Sex?
“Currently, most states have ‘close-in-age’ exceptions that allow two minors or a minor and an adult to have legal sex (or face misdemeanor charges instead of felonies) if their ages are within four years of each other.”
Michael Castleman MA, psychologytoday.com, 2/1/2017