Statutory rape law is a type of sex crime that involves the unlawful sexual intercourse with someone who does not have the legal authority to consent to having sex. The determining factor in deciding who has the legal authority to consent to sex is age. State legislatures designate this age. Thus, this concept is known as the legal age of consent.
The legal age of consent is a factor in rape law unique to cases of statutory rape. The age of consent is based on the mean age at which a person is developmentally sound enough to make the decision. Unlike most other forms of rape, the fact that ample consent was given is beside the point. The law does not accept the validity of consent from people younger than the age of consent because they never had the authority to give consent in the first place. Thus, statutory rape implies that the offender had passively coerced the victim into having sexual intercourse.
About ninety percent of states place this age at 16, 17, or 18. Despite the fact that ninety percent of American states place the legal age of consent at those three ages does not mean that statutory rape law is simple. Statutory rape law varies to a great degree from state to state because there are many nuances in the discussing the development of teenagers. What all states have in common is that if the victim is below the age of consent, the parents have the authority to report it. Naturally, the victim can also report the crime to the police him or herself. Many states have adopted statutory rape laws that prevent the criminal prosecution of two teenagers within a few years age difference engaged in consensual sexual relations.
Statutory rape laws always place blame on the older of the two in the couple. The assumption is that the older of the two manipulated the naive teenager into having sex with them. Statutory rape laws disproportionately target males over females. Over 95% of statutory rape cases involve a male offender and a female victim. Approximately half of statutory rape offenders are males below 21 years of age and have unlawfully had sex with a teenage girl within 4 years younger than he.
To combat the trend of teenagers having to go to jail for having consensual sex with a slightly younger teenager, many states have changed statutory rape law to have exemptions for teenagers within a 4 to 5 year age gap. These laws are known as Romeo and Juliet laws. Other states have not changed their statutory rape legislation but have added provisions that lower the severity of punishments. As a general rule, statutory rape punishments are higher for older offenders, 21 years or older.
Some states have statutory rape laws that specifically mention unlawful “sexual penetration” instead of unlawful sexual intercourse or acts to strengthen the non-gender neutral aspect of statutory rape laws. Other states have statutory rape laws that do not cover homosexual statutory rape acts. This is controversial because homosexuals, who would have faced simple statutory rape charges if they were doing a heterosexual sex act, are then susceptible to potentially harsher penalties from other crimes.
The American tradition of law does not encourage different laws for different people. The general belief in American legal theory is that laws should be applicable to the whole of the public and may only discriminate when it is in the interest of the greater good as in public safety.