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Is it Illegal for 2 Minors to Have Sex?
Definition & Statistics for 2024

In the U.S., laws regarding sexual activity involving minors vary by state. In some states, there are “Romeo and Juliet” laws that provide exceptions for consensual sexual activity between minors who are close in age. However, sexual activity involving minors can still be illegal in some cases, especially if there is a significant age difference between the individuals or if one of the individuals is below the age of consent.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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What is the Age of Consent?

According to Wikipedia, in the United States, every state has established an age of consent, which determines when an individual is considered old enough to legally consent to sexual activity [1].

Depending on the jurisdiction, the legal age of consent is between 16 and 18. In some places, civil and criminal laws within the same state conflict with each other.

This means that any sexual activity with someone below the age of consent is not considered consensual. In cases where a person under the age of consent agrees to sexual behavior but is not legally able to give consent, the adult involved may be charged with statutory rape.

It's worth noting that laws regarding the age of consent can vary between states, and there may be conflicting civil and criminal laws within the same state.

Also Read: Mistake of Age Law

What are Romeo and Juliet Laws?

According to Shouse Law, Romeo and Juliet law, also known as a “close-in-age” exemption, is a legal provision that exempts individuals from statutory rape charges if the age difference between the individuals involved in consensual sexual activity is within a specified range [2]. These laws are designed to prevent criminal prosecution in cases where the individuals are close in age and engage in consensual sexual activity.

Many states have enacted Romeo and Juliet laws, although the specifics of these laws vary from state to state. For example, in Texas, consensual sex is generally legal if the actor is not more than three years older than the alleged victim, and the alleged victim is 14 years old or older.

In contrast, California does not have a close-in-age exemption.

In California, it is still illegal for minors to have sexual relationships with one another – an 18-year-old in high school can still get arrested and charged for the rape of a child if they have sex with their 17-year-old significant other. If both of them are below the minimum age, they can both be charged with statutory rape.

However, in California, the penalties for a conviction may be less severe if the age difference between the parties is three years or fewer.

What is Statutory Rape?

According to Super Lawyers, Statutory rape is a serious offense and should be distinguished from consensual sexual relationships between two teenagers. This charge typically applies when an adult (18 years or older) engages in sexual intercourse with someone below the legal age of consent [3].

Unlike forcible rape, statutory rape is considered a status offense and does not require the element of force. The only requirement is that the accused had sexual relations with someone under the age of consent.

However, statutory rape is prosecuted as a sexual assault crime, and penalties can include prison time and registration as a sex offender. A mistake or misrepresentation of age is not a valid defense.

Young adults (and their parents) have good reason to be concerned if they think they may be subject to criminal charges, but there are some variables to age of consent rules.

To address consensual sexual activity between teens, some states have Romeo and Juliet laws.

These laws create exceptions to statutory rape for young people with a small age gap. In New Jersey, for example, if the age difference is not more than four years, two individuals between 13 and 16 years old may engage in consensual sex without facing statutory rape charges.

Statutory Rape Statistics

  • Most (95%) statutory rape victims were female.
  • Almost 3 out of every 5 victims of statutory rape were age 14 or 15, with relatively equal proportions in each of these ages.
  • More than 99% of the offenders of female statutory rape victims were male.
  • Of all offenders of male statutory rape victims, 94% were female.
  • Of all offenders of female statutory rape victims, 18% were younger than age 18.
  • Of all offenders of male statutory rape victims, 70% were age 21 and older, while 45% of offenders of female statutory rape victims were 21 and older.
  • The median age difference between female offenders and their male statutory rape victims was 9 years. The median age difference between male offenders and their female statutory rape victims was 6 years.
  • Three of every 10 statutory rape offenders were boyfriends or girlfriends, and 6 in 10 were acquaintances.
  • An arrest occurred in 42% of statutory rape incidents, with the probability of arrest declining as victim age increased.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Justice Programs [4]

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