Statutory Rape: Things You Should Know
Statutory rape is a sex crime with many definitions. Most people know it involves sexual activity with minors, but beyond this is where terminology begins to change. In fact, “statutory rape” is only listed as an offense in five states, although every state prosecutes this type of crime. There are many definitions of criminal sex acts applied to minors and other factors that come into play involving the crime.
Statutory Rape Offenders are:
29% boyfriends and girlfriends
What is Statutory Rape?
Let’s begin with a thorough definition. Statutory rape involves sex (often meant but not limited to “intercourse”) between two individuals, one of whom is not old enough to legally consent to the behavior. Although sex is usually consensual, it may be considered a sex crime. Most states apply criminal codes that specify the legality of specific sexual acts and as applied to minors, for instance “felonious sexual assault” or “carnal knowledge.”
But there are other factors involved that alter the severity of the crime. States also delineate other definitions:
- Age of consent. The age at which an individual may legally consent to sex under any circumstance.
- Minimum age of victim. The age below which an individual may not consent to sex under any circumstance.
- Age differential. The maximum difference in age between the victim and the defendant where an individual may legally consent to sex—if the victim is (at or) above the minimum age and below the age of consent.
- Minimum age of defendant. The age below which a defendant cannot be prosecuted for engaging in sex with minors.
Let me give an example. In New Mexico the age of consent is 16. The minimum age of victim is 13. The age differential is four years. So by these definitions a defendant will avoid prosecution up to 17 years-old.
This type of reasoning characterizes what are termed Romeo and Juliet laws. They reduce and eliminate penalty in cases where age difference is minor and sexual contact is considered rape only because of the lack of legally recognized consent—what happens when two minors have sex?
But these definitions are not the same in every state and do not work the same. Minors that are sexually active should be very careful. For instance, 12 states have a single age of consent below which no individual can consent to sex under any circumstance (e.g., California, Massachusetts, Georgia). Two minors, in this case, could be prosecuted.
Statutory rape also refers to sex between sexually mature individuals. Relations with prepubescent individuals are defined as child molestation.
Age of Consent
Must be married; illegal for gays
12; illegal for gays
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan
Must be married; illegal for gays
United Arab Emirates
18; illegal for gays
16; 17 in South Australia
Statutory Rape Facts
Most U.S. states (29) set their age of consent at 16 years for straight and gay individuals; others are set at 17 (8) and 18 (13). (Nevada differs: age of consent is 16 for everyone except lesbians, 18.)
It is also interesting to see what age of consent looks like around the world (chart).
Now consider these sobering facts regarding statutory rape.
- 95% of statutory rape victims are female
- 99% of offenders of females are male
- 3 out of 5 victims are 14 or 15 years-old
- 94% of male statutory rape offenders are female
- 70% of male statutory rape offenders are 21 or over, 45% of female offenders
- There is 1 statutory rape for every 3 forcible rapes involving a juvenile victim.
- The arrest rate is 42%. The probability decreases the older the victim. Boyfriends and girlfriends are least likely to be arrested.
- 36% of statutory rape cases are cleared by arrest of an adult; 6% by arrest of a juvenile. The remaining 58% is cleared by the victim's refusal to cooperate or decline to prosecute.
Important Phone Numbers
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Call 911 if in danger
Reporting Statutory Rape
Reporting varies by state but it is mandatory for certain individuals that encounter children and youth in a professional capacity. These professions include healthcare providers, childcare workers, teachers, and clergy. If there is reasonable suspicion that unlawful sexual behavior is occurring, especially at certain ages, some professionals may be required to report what they know.
If you are a minor and you engage in consensual sexual activity, be very careful for yourself and your partner. Your health and emotions are important and then there is the legality of it all.
If you are or have been involved in a situation where your consent has NOT been given, find the courage to report this to trustworthy persons, like parents or intervention specialists, who will get you needed help. You can also go directly to the police.
Sexual activity is a major responsibility and statutory rape proves its riskiness.