What is statutory rape?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 30, 2021

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A statutory rape offense occurs when someone has sexual intercourse with a person who has not yet reached the age of consent (determined by state law), whether or not the sexual contact was against that person’s will. In many states, “Romeo and Juliet” relationships, in which the male and female are young and there is little or no difference in age between them, are punished less severely than when the victim is significantly younger than the perpetrator. When the victim is not only a person under the age of consent but is also a child (as defined by state law), the offense may be rape or child molestation not statutory rape.

What Are State Statutory Rape Laws?

If the child victim is younger than thirteen years of age, some states do not care whether the sexual relations with the child were consensual or not. For example, Texas courts have held that a child under the age of thirteen cannot consent to sexual intercourse. The cut-off age varies by state, but as children get older, from fourteen to sixteen, an adult can still be charged with statutory rape for having sexual intercourse with an older child who is under the age of consent, but may also have a defense. This defense is sometimes referred to as the “teen sex” defense.

In Texas, if defendants are within three years of age of the child victim, the victim consented to the sexual relations, and the child victim was not injured, the adult would have an affirmative defense to a statutory rape charge. If the adult is six years older than the child victim, the adult could not claim the teen sex affirmative defense.

Ironically, even though age is the controlling factor in a statutory rape case, knowledge of age is not an element of the offense. This means that the prosecutor does not have to prove that you knew how old a child was before you had sexual intercourse with him or her, only that you did have sexual relations with someone underage. For example, you are twenty-one years of age and you meet an attractive girl at a party–she looks like she is eighteen, and several other people at the party agree. In actuality, she is only sixteen years old. If you have sexual intercourse with her, you could be charged and convicted of statutory rape. The prosecution does not have to prove, in most states, that you knew she was underage, only that she was a child and you did have sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a child victim.

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What are state limits on statutory rape?

Some states still limit statutory rape to men who have sexual intercourse with females younger than a specified age of consent, but most states will also prosecute women. For example, there have been some high-profile prosecutions of female teachers who have had sexual intercourse with their young students who were under the age of consent in recent years. Most penal codes are written in terms of an adult and child and do not specify other factors such as what gender the offender or victim must be to support a conviction for statutory rape.

How Can I Get Legal Help?

The potential ramifications of statutory rape are as severe as those of any rape case. If a person is convicted of the crime of statutory rape, they can be punished and receive a prison sentence to the same degree as any other form of rape and will be required to register as a sex offender as one of the penalties. Before you visit with the police about a sexual assault allegation, you should look for rape lawyers in your jurisdiction. A rape lawyer or criminal defense lawyer can advise you of the statutory rape laws and defenses available in your state. 

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