What is Statutory Rape?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Statutory rape is a legal term describing a certain set of circumstances relating to age and consent of sexual partners. Various regions have differing laws, but usually address two things. They define an age at which people can legally consent to sex, and they may also define a legal age spread between partners who are minors, so that even if consent is allowable, it may not be so if sexual partners have a very significant age difference. The accused doesn’t necessarily have to be an adult having intercourse with a minor, but could be an older teen having sex with a minor who is too young to consent or where age difference is great. There can be other differences, such as varying age of consent between males and females.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

People should understand statutory rape as different from other forms of sexual assault, because both parties consent to any sexual engagement. The trouble comes if one person is not defined as legally able to consent by age.

Moreover, sexual partners don’t make many statutory rape charges. Others can file them, like parents, even if the person who allegedly was raped will not cooperate or testify. Burden of proof is then on those making the charge, but may not be that difficult if the statutory rape was discovered by those who filed the charges, despite the alleged victim’s denial.

On the other hand, though it's consensual and not rape, statutory rape may very much be treated in the same manner as other sexual assaults. It could result in a person being considered a sex offender. Such a consideration is highly undesirable and might involve lifetime registry on sexual offender lists in addition to jail time.

It’s suggested that all people, minors or adults, understand regional laws for consensual age or legal age spread. Most laws are designed to discourage intercourse between adults and teens, who may or may not technically consent, but would be viewed as being exploited by adults because of the age differences. Even so, statutory rape laws may be applied under other circumstances with more of a grey area. A sexually active couple who are 17 and 18, might meet this charge even if the 18 year old has just reached that age and the couple has been active for a while. It always depends on region and the willingness of parents or prosecuting attorneys to pursue a case.

Theoretically, the high incidence of statutory rape violations in all states could congest courtrooms for years, because of the number of teens that engage in consensual sex below the age of consent. While most of these cases never see a courtroom, the rare case does end up there, particularly if a parent is extremely unsupportive of a teen’s sexual choices. Couples can help each other by determining legality of their activities and likelihood of prosecution if activities are illegal. People can often get good advice on this subject from clinics that offer sexual education and medical exams to teens.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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My husband is cheating on me, I just found out, with a 13 year old girl. He is 18, and will be 19 next month. I have emails to prove it, and a message with him admitting it. Is that enough proof to get him sent to jail?

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