Sexual Assault of a Child (Statutory Rape)
Statutory rape refers to sexual relations involving someone below the "age of consent." People below the age of consent cannot legally consent to having sex. This means that sex with them, by definition, violates the law.
Statutory rape laws vary by state, with states setting the age of consent differently, as well as using different names to refer to this crime. Many states punish statutory rape under laws addressing sexual assault, rape, unlawful sexual intercourse or carnal knowledge of a child. There are very few federal laws dealing with statutory rape.
No Requirement of Force
Statutory rape differs from other types of rape, and from child molestation, in that the act would not be a crime if all participants were above the age of consent. Unlike "forcible rape," statutory rape can involve underage participants who willingly engage in sexual relations. However, because those under the age of consent cannot give legal consent to sex, the act is a crime whether or not force is involved. If the act involves force or coercion, many states prosecute the offender under the separate statutes punishing child molestation or aggravated rape.
Age of Consent
Individuals cannot legally have sexual contact with an individual who is not of age. The legal age of consent may vary by state. For instance, the legal age of consent in Texas is 17. Some states have a legal age of consent as low as 14 while other states have a legal age of consent of 18.
An individual who has sexual contact with a person below the age of consent may face punishment. In general, sexual contact is considered any act intended to arouse another person. As such, an individual may be found guilty of statutory rape even if he or she did not have sexual intercourse with a minor.
Historically, statutory rape has been a "strict liability" offense, meaning that it does not matter whether what the perpetrator believed the victim was old enough to consent to sex. Some states now allow the defense that the perpetrator had reason to believe, and did believe, that the minor was above the age of consent. However, in many states this defense is not allowed, meaning that the act was a crime regardless of what the perpetrator believed the victims age to be. In states that do allow such a defense, it often cannot be used if the victim was particularly young, commonly under the age of 14.
Factors Affecting the Level of Offense Charges and Penalties
Laws punishing statutory rape often include a spectrum of offenses, ranging from misdemeanors to high level felonies. In general, two main factors affect the level of offense for an act of statutory rape: (1) the age of the victim; and (2) the age difference between victim and perpetrator. Other factors, including any prior sex offenses committed by the offender, whether drugs or alcohol were involved, and whether pregnancy resulted, can also affect the level of charge imposed.
Statutory rape is a felony offense, so an individual who is found guilty of the crime may face several years in prison. In Texas, for example, the crime is a second-degree felony, so an individual may be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Punishment for statutory rape can include mandatory prison or jail sentences, probation, fines, and mandated treatment services. Many states require those convicted of statutory rape to register as sex offenders.
Exceptions to Statutory Rape Laws
Though statutory rape laws make it illegal for individuals to have sexual relationships with people below the age of consent, some exceptions do exist. Generally, these exceptions include:
- The individuals are within a certain number of years of one another
- The individuals dated before one was above the age of consent
- The younger individual is within so many months of being at the age of consent
These rules may not apply in all circumstances, so individuals should contact a legal authority to learn more about their legal rights regarding relationships with minors.
Professionals Required to Report
Some states require certain classes of professionals to report knowledge or suspicion of statutory rape to authorities. Types of professionals required to report statutory rape often include teachers, medical professionals, public employees, and clergy, among others.
Austin Statutory Rape Defense: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Statutory rape is a state sex crime that can be punishable by incarceration, fine, probation, and/or registry as a sex offender. If you are facing Statutory Rape charges, speak with an experienced and aggressive attorney from the Charles Johnson Law Firm in Austin, Texas.