Statutory rape

The phrase statutory rape is a general term used to describe consensual sexual relations that take place when an individual (regardless of age or gender) has sexual relations with an individual not old enough to legally consent to the behavior. Although it usually refers to adults engaging in sex with minors under the age of consent, the age at which individuals are considered competent to give consent to sexual conduct, it is a generic term, and very few jurisdictions use the actual term "statutory rape" in the language of statues. Different jurisdictions use many different statutory terms for the crime, such as "sexual assault," "rape of a child," "corruption of a minor," "carnal knowledge of a minor," or simply "carnal knowledge." Statutory rape differs from forcible rape in that overt force or threat need not be present. The laws presumes coercion, because a minor or mentally retarded adult is legally incapable of giving consent to the act.

The term statutory rape generally refers to sex between an adult and a sexually mature minor past the age of puberty. Sexual relations with a prepubescent child, generically called "child molestation," is uniformly treated as a more serious crime.

Age of consent

Age of consent is the age at which an individual can legally consent to intercourse without qualification. There are qualified circumstances in which sexual relations with a person under the age of consent are not a crime (or constitutes a less serious crime). The most common such qualifications are that both parties to the act are minors, or that the person to be charged is legally married to the minor or close in age to the minor.

In many jurisdictions, age of consent is interpreted to mean mental or functional age.People vs Andaya : 126545 : Synopsis/SyllabiG.R. No. 126545People vs Andaya : 126545 : Synopsis/SyllabiAs a result, victims can be of any chronological age if their mental age makes them unable to consent to a sexual act. Browse CaselawPeople vs Andaya : 126545 : Synopsis/SyllabiG.R. No. 126545G.R. No. 126921 Other jurisdictions, such as Connecticut, eliminate the legal concept of "mental age" and treat sex with a mentally incapacitated person as a specific crime.

The parameters of sexual crimes against persons under the age of consent are sufficiently diverse to make generalizations difficult. A complete and detailed list of such laws in North America is contained in Ages of consent in North America.

Laws varyStatutory Rape Laws by State in their definitions of statutory rape; some states make exceptions when the older person is also young or of a similar age, or if he or she marries the minor before the act of sexual intercourse or before being charged with the offense.

Some critics contest the legal characterization of unlawful, non-forced sexual contact as "rape" or "sexual assault."

Rationale of statutory rape laws

Statutory rape laws are based on the concept that a young person may desire sexual intercourse but may lack the experience possessed by legal adults to make a mature decision as to whether or not to have sexual contact with a particular person. Thus, the law assumes, even if he or she willingly engages in sexual intercourse with a legal adult, his or her sex partner may well have used tactics of manipulation or deceit against which the younger person has not yet developed sufficient discernment or defense.

Critics argue that a young teenager might possess enough social sense to make informed and mature decisions about sex, while some adults might never develop the ability to make mature choices about sex, as even many mentally healthy individuals remain naive and easily manipulated throughout their lives.

Another rationale comes from the fact that minors are legally, economically and socially unequal to adults. By making it illegal for an adult to have sex with a minor, statutory rape laws aim to give the minor some protection against adults in a position of power over the youth.

Statutory rape laws are also based on the ideas that minors are less likely than adults to understand sexually transmitted infections, or to have knowledge of and access to reliable methods of contraception, and young women who want to use condoms may find their prospective partner unwilling. Statutory rape laws also assume that minors are less likely to be in a position where they are capable of raising a child and may not have the option of an abortion without parental consent.

Another rationale presented in defense of statutory rape laws relates to the difficulty in prosecuting forced rape (against a victim of any age) in the courtroom. Because forced sexual intercourse with a minor is considered to be a particularly heinous form of rape, these laws relieve the prosecution of the burden to prove lack of consent. This makes conviction more frequent in cases involving minors.

The original purpose of statutory rape laws was to protect young, unwed females from males who might take their virginity, impregnate them, and not take responsibility by marrying them. In the past, the solution to such problems was often a forced marriage or "shotgun wedding" called for by the parents of the girl in question. The original rationale was to preserve the marriageability of the girl and to prevent unwanted teen pregnancy. In some cultures, a boy who got a girl pregnant might avoid marriage by paying her parents a bride price.

In such cases the alleged victim was required to be "of virtue" by the standards of the community, making the background of the alleged victim an issue. It was not considered appropriate, necessary, or possible to defend the virtue or social standing of a girl who was already sexually active, promiscuous, or involved in prostitution. One sign of this is the fact that in some states a man can defend himself against statutory rape charges by proving that his victim was already sexually experienced prior to their encounter (and thus not subject to being corrupted by the defendant).

Gender differences in statutory rape

Female-male statutory rape

In the past, sex involving an adult female and an underage male was often ignored by the law. However, in recent years, social perceptions have shifted, particularly when the adult female is in a position of responsibility, and there have now been a number of high profile cases (Mary Kay Letourneau, Debra Lafave, Pamela Rogers Turner, Pamela Smart) in which adult females have been prosecuted for participating in sexual relationships with younger males. Under English and Welsh law such cases would be viewed as indecent assault and some cases have been prosecuted.BBC NEWS | England | Kent | Jail term for underage sex womanBBC NEWS | England | Staffordshire | Teacher jailed for seducing boy

Same-sex statutory rape

In some jurisdictions, relationships between adults and minors may be prosecuted more strongly when both are the same sex. For example, in Kansas, if someone 18 or older has sex with a minor no more than four years younger, a "Romeo and Juliet" law limits the penalty substantially. As written, however, this law does not apply to same-sex couples, leading to higher penalties. The Kansas law was successfully challenged, as being in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings Lawrence v. Texas and Romer v. Evans.85898 - State v. Limon - Luckert - Kansas Supreme Court The Lawrence v. Texas precedent does not directly address equal protection, but its application in the case of Limon v. Kansas was that it also invalidates age of consent laws that discriminate by sexual orientation (Lawrence v. Texas).FindLaw's Writ - Grossman: The Kansas Supreme Court Rights a Wrong, Ruling that the State Cannot Penalize a Teenager for Being GayA table of worldwide ages of consent, including US states

Current issues

While there is broad support for statutory rape laws in the United States, there is substantial debate on how vigorously such cases should be pursued and under what circumstances.

In May 2006, the Irish Supreme Court found the existing statutory rape laws to have been unconstitutional as they prevented the defendant from entering a defense (e.g., that he had assumed the other party was over the age of consent).RTÉ News: Statutory rape law ruled unconstitutional This has led to the release of persons held under the statutory rape law and has led to public demands that the law be changed by emergency legislation being enacted. On the 2nd of June 2006 the Irish Supreme Court upheld an appeal by the state against the release of one such person, "Mr. A". Mr. A was rearrested shortly afterwards to continue serving his sentence.RTÉ News: McDowell confident ruling will foil offenders

In the aftermath of the December 2007 disclosure by 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, the sister of pop singer Britney Spears, that the father of her baby is 18-year-old Casey Aldridge, there is talk of the prosecution of Aldridge for statutory rape, which could be done under current Louisiana state law.

Age of consent reform

Efforts to reform age of consent laws have been pursued by different organizations through a variety of means, including:

See also

Further reading

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