Age of consent laws are statutes that determine the legal age at which a person can give consent to marriage without the need of consent from a parent or guardian. These laws also typically govern the age at which a person is considered legally able to voluntarily give consent to engage in sexual intercourse or other sexual acts. Age of consent laws can change drastically among countries and can even be different in different states or regions within a given country. Such laws may also be different for males or females, depending on the region as well.
Though specifically created in regard to the legal age of marriage without parental agreement, age of consent laws may be more often referenced for points of sexual conduct. These laws are often used in cases where one person over the age of consent, considered an adult, engages in sexual actions with someone who is under the age of consent, considered a minor. In these cases, the adult can be charged with sexual assault or statutory rape.
Statutory rape is sexual conduct between an adult and a minor. There is no consideration given to whether the adult may have reasonably believed the minor was of legal age, or of whether consent was given by the minor. The nature of age of consent laws indicates that consent is irrelevant since the law clearly states that someone under that age cannot legally give consent to engage in sexual intercourse or other similar acts.
In the United States (US), every state has age of consent laws that determine the age of consent for that state. These are typically ages of 16 to 18 years old. Many states also have laws that dictate an age difference necessary for an adult to be charged with statutory rape. This is intended to protect people who may both be under the age of consent at first, but then one person has a birthday is no longer considered a minor. In states or regions that do not have such age differential statutes, a person could be innocent one day, then after his or her birthday be guilty of breaking age of consent laws regarding sexual conduct.
For situations where the people involved in the sexual conduct are from two different regions, then the laws where the sexual activity occurred are usually considered for legality. This can sometimes be superseded by some countries that have “sex tourism” laws that allow the punishment of someone who is a resident of that country, but then travels to another country to engage in sexual activities with someone who would be legally underage in the home country. There are also situations, such as while a person is sleeping or heavily intoxicated, where someone cannot legally give consent regardless of age.