If you are a minor and are involved in an exploitative sexual relationship with an older individual and need help, please call RAINN's 24-hour hotline 800-656-HOPE or the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474.
Statutory rape is a term used to classify sexual activities between an adult (usually over 18) with a minor (usually under the age of 18). Laws vary by state, but in general the age of consent ranges from age 14-18. In some cases, statutory rape is further classified by the age difference between partners.
Statutory rape laws are in place to address a specific type of abuse wherein an adult engages with a younger, more vulnerable individual as their sexual partner. Adults who commit statutory rape can face prison time if convicted. It is important to note that a sexual encounter with a minor may be classified as statutory rape even if no force was involved.
Statutory rape laws are in place to protect minors who may not have enough life experience to determine if an older individual is taking advantage of, exploiting, and/or emotionally abusing them.
How Common is Statutory Rape?
According to a demographics study of statutory rape performed by Kristin Moore, Ph.D. & Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D, approximately 13% of females and 5% of males nationwide were victims of statutory rape during their first sexual encounter.
Among those who have had sex previously, 26% of females and 9% of males experienced statutory rape. It is likely that cases of statutory rape are under-reported, particularly among males who may experience more pressure to have sex.
The younger an individual is during their first sexual encounter, the more likely they are to experience statutory rape.
What is the Age of Consent?
In many states, the age of consent is the mental or functional age of a person. As a result, victims can be of any chronological age if their mental age means that they cannot consent to a sexual act.
Here is a state-by-state breakdown of the age of consent for each state.
Rationale of Statutory Rape Laws:
The premise behind the statutory rape laws is that until a person reaches a specific age, that individual is legally incapable of consenting to sexual acts. The law then assumes that even if he or she willingly engages in sexual intercourse, the sex is not consensual.
What Are the Risks of Statutory Rape?
An underage male who fathers a child may be liable for child support, regardless of whether he is of working age.
Misunderstandings about the meaning of the sexual act, whether it is part of a continual relationship, and what the physical and emotional consequences may be for both parties. This can have a negative impact on an individual's self-esteem, self-worth, and/or body image.
Minors who have sex are at greater risk for experiencing mood disorders, such as depression.
Underage girls (particularly those under the age of 16) are often not fully developed physically and may experience more pain during sex.
Individuals under the age of 18 may have more difficulty obtaining birth control and STD protection (especially if they do not confide in their parents), which puts them at greater risk of pregnancy and contracting STDs.
Teens who become pregnant find it more difficult to graduate high school, which can impact the jobs they are able to obtain and their ability to be financially independent and able to care for their child. Because of this, 75% of teen mothers will rely on welfare at some point during their lives.
Minors are more emotionally vulnerable and have a greater risk of experiencing physical and/or emotional abuse in a relationship with an adult.
Who Can File Charges for Statutory Rape?
- The minor/victim
- The minor's parents
- Professionals who are mandatory reporters (teachers, nurses, therapists)
- State law enforcement (usually in cases where a child is conceived in a statutory rape situation)
Additional Statutory Rape Resources:
Statutory Rape Laws by State - this page lists the age for sexual consent by state and details possible criminal charges.
Avert.org provides a wonderful article with points to consider for teens who are considering having sex.
LoveIsRespect.org provides an informative document that can help determine if your relationship is healthy.
The GLBT National Help Center provides a toll-free talkline where for gay youth to connect with peers for support: 1-800-246-PRIDE (1-800-246-7743).
Planned Parenthood has information for teens and can assist with obtaining free or low cost healthcare.
The Date Safe Project has educational information to help parents and schools have conversions with their teens about safe dating.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides a form for reporting such crimes.
The United States Department of Justice provides an online searchable database of registered sex offenders.