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Age of Consent Laws Across the US
(Is It Illegal to Date a Minor?)

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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While dating a minor is not illegal, engaging in sexual activity with a child can result in criminal charges. It is crucial to understand that the legal implications of dating a minor can vary depending on the state's laws and the age of consent.

As a criminal defense attorney with over a decade of experience, I have dealt with numerous cases related to sexual activity with minors.

In this article, I will provide valuable information about the legal consequences of dating a minor, the age of consent laws, and the potential legal implications of engaging in sexual activity. 

Quick Summary:

  • Dating a minor is not illegal, but engaging in sexual conduct with a minor can result in serious criminal charges.
  • The age of consent depends on the state's laws, and other laws may apply to sexual conduct between minors and adults.
  • Someone committing statutory rape could be punished with imprisonment, monetary fines, and a criminal record.

Is It Illegal To Date A Minor?

A person dating a minorNo, it is not illegal to date a minor. However, engaging in sexual activity with a minor is illegal and can result in criminal charges.

The laws that regulate sexual activity with minors are complex and vary depending on the state in which you live. 

Engaging in sexual activity with a minor under the age of consent is generally considered illegal. It is essential to understand that dating a minor can still have legal implications even if the relationship is not sexual. 

Additionally, some states have laws that criminalize the act of grooming, which is the process of building a relationship with a minor to engage in sexual activity.

Although some common behaviors in dating relationships may not involve sexual relations, they can still be illegal. For instance, in California, dating a minor requires taking precautions to avoid violating laws such as:

  • Providing alcohol to a minor 
  • Engaging in lewd acts with a minor 
  • Loitering on school grounds 
  • Soliciting a minor 
  • Annoying or molesting a child
  • Possessing child pornography 
  • Committing lewd acts in the presence of a child

It is important to note that these laws can be violated even without engaging in any physical or sexual contact [1].

Related Article: Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

Age Of Consent Laws In The United States

A lawyer looking at a law book for the age of consentThe age of consent varies from state to state and can be complex. Generally, the age of consent refers to the age at which young adults can legally consent to sexual activity, and in most states, the age of consent is 16 or 18 years old [2]. 

However, some states have additional laws for sexual activity between minors and adults. Sexual activity with minors under 18 is illegal for adults in certain states, even if the minor consents to the activity.

The age of consent laws are not always straightforward. In some states, there are close-in-age exception laws that allow for sexual activity between minors and adults who are close in age. 

These exceptions are often referred to as Romeo and Juliet laws. However, the specifics of these laws can vary from state to state and can be challenging to navigate without the help of an experienced attorney.

Read Also: Can an 18-Year-Old Date a 16-Year-Old?

Legal Consequences Of Engaging In Sexual Activity With A Minor

A lawyer looking at the legal consequences of engaging in sexual activity with a minorEngaging in sexual activity with a minor can have severe legal consequences. If you are accused of engaging in sexual contact with a minor, you could face criminal charges. It can be considered statutory rape, sexual assault, or sexual abuse of a minor. 

These charges can result in jail time, fines, and a criminal record. Even if the minor has consensual sex, it is still illegal and can have serious consequences.

In addition to criminal penalties, sexual intercourse with a minor can have social and personal consequences. 

You could face social stigma, loss of employment, and damage to your reputation.

The emotional toll of facing criminal charges for engaging in sexual activity with a minor can also significantly impact your mental health and well-being.

Statutory rape in California can be charged as either a misdemeanor offense or a felony at the discretion of prosecutors. When charged as a felony, the consequences of a statutory rape conviction become even more severe.

Such charges may result in:

  • Jail time for 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years
  • Fines of up to $10,000 or felony probation

If one person involved in the sexual intercourse was below the age of 16 and the other was 21 years or older, the possible prison sentences range from 2 to 4 years.

Defendants 18 years or older may be subject to civil penalties just for being accused of statutory rape, with the fine amount varying based on the age of the parties involved.

The penalties for engaging in sexual activities with a minor are as follows: 

  • A fine of $2,000 if the younger partner is less than two years younger than, the older partner
  • A fine of $5,000 if the age difference is at least two years
  • A fine of $10,000 if the age difference is at least three years
  • A fine of $25,000, if the underage partner is under 16 years old and the older partner, is at least 21.

Compared to other states, Texas has more stringent statutory rape laws.

According to these laws, engaging in statutory rape is deemed a second-degree felony, leading to severe consequences upon conviction, including:

  • 2 to 20 years of imprisonment 
  • Fines of up to $10,000

If a person is convicted, they will be registered as a sex offender in almost every state. As the consequences of a conviction are severe, defendants should seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney.

With the guidance of a lawyer from a well-known law firm, defendants, especially youth, can prevent getting convicted of a severe sexual offense.

Related Article: What if a Minor Lies About Their Age Online?

What Are Other Potential Legal Risks of Dating a Minor?

Two lawyers talking to each other in an officeOther potential legal risks of dating a minor are facing civil lawsuits aside from criminal penalties.

For example, an adult who performs sexual acts or has a sexual relationship with a minor could face civil lawsuits for sexual harassment or emotional distress.

The minor or their parents could also sue the adult for damages related to the harm caused by the relationship.

Dating a minor can also have personal and social consequences. For example, the relationship could lead to social stigma, loss of employment, and damage to your reputation. The emotional toll of being accused of engaging in illegal activity can also significantly impact your mental health and well-being.

"A minor's consent to sexual contact is irrelevant in the eyes of the law in California (in many other states, the age of consent is younger)."
- Greg T. Hill, Criminal Defense Attorney

Related Articles:


What Is Sexual Conduct?

Sexual conduct is any sexual activity between two or more people, including sexual intercourse, oral sex, and sexual touching.

What Is A Romeo And Juliet Law?

The Romeo and Juliet law is a law that allows for certain exceptions to statutory rape laws if the individuals involved are close in age and have a consensual sexual relationship.

What Are The Penalties For Statutory Rape?

The penalties for statutory rape are jail time, fines, and a criminal record. The severity of the punishment depends on the minor's age, the age difference between the minor and the adult, and the specific laws in your state.

Related Article: Differences between Sexual Abuse & Molestation

Get Legal Advice Today

In case of being accused of engaging in sexual activity with a minor, or with statutory rape charges, it is crucial to enlist the legal help of a skilled criminal defense lawyer.

The legal professionals at Schmidt & Clark, LLP possess the necessary expertise and experience to guide you through this intricate legal matter and safeguard your legal entitlements. Contact us today for a free consultation.