What is statutory rape?

Statutory rape 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 act was against that person’s will. In many states, “Romeo and Juliet” trysts, 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 below the age of consent, but also a child (as defined by state law), the offense may be rape or child molestation—not statutory rape.

State Statutory Rape Laws

If the child 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 relations. 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 sex with an older child, but may also have a defense. This defense is sometimes referred to as the “teen sex” defense. 

In Texas, if the adult is 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 sex 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 relations 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 under age, only that she was a child and you did have sex with a child.

State Limits on Statutory Rape

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

Getting Help

The potential ramifications of statutory rape are as severe as those of any rape case. If convicted of statutory rape, you can be punished to the same extent and required to register as a sex offender for a number of years. 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.