“Statutory rape” refers to any sexual contact between a person who is legally an adult and a person who is legally a minor. Not every jurisdiction uses this exact phrasing; some states or countries refer to this behavior as “corruption of a minor,” “sexual assault with a child” or other terms. In the US, every state has its own legal definitions of and penalties for this crime, which only makes the complex issues surrounding sex, consent, and age all the more confusing.
The very name of this criminal behavior can be misleading. If a person is under the age of consent, then engaging in sexual behavior with him or her is automatically considered a form of rape or sexual assault. It is irrelevant whether the minor gives consent or not. This is because people under a certain age are considered incapable of making important life decisions for their selves. According to the law, they simply do not have the experience or emotional maturity to consent to sex with an adult.
In some states, the age of the accused rapist can be an important factor in a criminal trial. Certain laws, commonly referred to as “Romeo and Juliet laws,” allow sexual contact between a minor and an adult if their ages are within a certain range. This is intended to protect teenage couples where one person may be slightly older than the other, such a sixteen-year-old dating a seventeen-year-old. In Texas, for example, it is legal to have consensual sexual contact with a person who is within three years of your own age, even if you are over the age of consent. It is important to note that not every state has this kind of legislation. In Wisconsin, for example, sexual contact with a person under the age of sixteen is illegal in any circumstances.
The age of the alleged victim can also impact the exact charges being made and the possible sentence given. In Alaska and Wisconsin, among other places, sexual contact with a person at or under the age of thirteen is considered a more serious offense than similar contact with an older teenager. Other variables, such as the specific acts performed, can also strongly influence the outcome of a trial. In Texas, even the genders of the people involved matter – Texas’s Romeo and Juliet laws only apply to heterosexual couples. In most other states, however, the genders of the adult and minor are irrelevant.