Statutory Rape

Daisy Rogozinsky
February 14, 2023

Statutory rape is a type of sex crime. In this article, we’ll define the term “statutory rape” and discuss the laws in the United States that relate to it.

Key Takeaways

  • Statutory rape is sexual activity with a person under the age of consent 
  • Statutory rape does not require force or threat, as minors as considered incapable of legally consenting to intercourse even if they are willing
  • The age of consent ranges from state to state, but it is usually 16, 17, or 18 years old
  • Some states have Romeo and Juliet laws that adjust the legality or severity of statutory rape if the actor is close in age to the minor

What Is Statutory Rape?

Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a person under the age of consent. Whether or not the victim is willing, this still constitutes rape under the law. Statutory rape does not require force or threat. The issue lies in the fact that minors are not legally capable of consenting to sexual intercourse. Thus any sexual activity with an underage person is seen as coercive. 

Note that statutory rape is a generic, not a legal term. Different jurisdictions use different legal terms for the crime including:

  • Sexual assault
  • Unlawful sex with a minor (USWAM)
  • Corruption of a minor (COAM)
  • Carnal knowledge of a minor (CKOAM)
  • Rape of a child (ROAC)

Age of Consent

Each state has its own laws about at what age a person can legally consent to sex. Most states set it at 16, 17, or 18 years old. The goal of laws against statutory rape is to protect people who are considered to be too immature to make an informed decision about sex. 

Historically, statutory rape is a strict liability offense, meaning that it is charged whether or not the offender knew that the victim was too young to consent. However, some states permit a “mistake of fact” defense in which the defense can argue that the accused honestly believed their partner was above the age of consent. 

Statutory Rape Penalties

The typical punishment for statutory rape includes:

  • Imprisonment
  • Fines
  • A requirement to register as a sex offender

Factors that may affect the severity of the sentence include:

  • The age of the victim
  • The age of the perpetrator
  • The gender of the victim
  • The gender of the perpetrator
  • The age difference between the parties
  • Whether the parties are members of the same household
  • Whether the perpetrator is in a position of trust over the victim
  • The perpetrator’s past sex offenses, if they have any

Some states have “Romeo and Juliet Laws” that define different rules if the offender is close in age to the minor. In some states, it is not considered statutory rape if the actor is within a certain number of years in age to the minor. In other, it lowers the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor.

If you have been charged with statutory rape, it’s important to hire an experienced sexual assault lawyer who has worked on statutory rape cases in the past. They will be able to build a defense in order to argue for an acquittal or the lowest possible penalty.

Featured Sexual Assault Lawyers

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