What Is Statutory Rape?

Remember Mary Kay Letourneau, the famous former schoolteacher who had a sexual relationship with her 13-year-old student and who gave birth to two children fathered by the same boy? This high profile case has been one of the faces of statutory rape in the United States.

What is statutory rape?

Statutory rape happens when an adult engages in sex with a minor or someone under the "age of consent" defined by the state. It usually happens between an older male and a younger female, but cases of statutory rape between an older female and a younger male are increasing. A same-sex sexual relationship between an adult and a minor also constitutes such offense. Statutory rape can also happen between minors.

The idea behind statutory rape is that minors are still too young to make crucial decisions about sex. So, even if the minor consented to have sex with an adult, it still constitutes statutory rape.

What does age of consent mean?

Age of consent is basically the age at which a person can legally consent to have sexual intercourse without qualification. This varies, however, from location to location. For example, the age of consent in California is 18, while the age of consent in Texas and Kansas is 17 and 16, respectively. Other countries have younger age of consent. In Mexico, for example, some states have an age of consent of 12.

Age of consent in many jurisdictions is interpreted to mean functional or mental age. In this interpretation, the victim can be of any age if his or her mental age makes him or her unable to consent to a sexual act.

When is having sex with a minor not a crime?

There are some qualified circumstances wherein sexual relations with a minor are not considered statutory rape. One common qualification is that the adult is legally married to the minor. Another qualification is both participants to the sexual act are individuals under the age of consent. However, although rare, there are some cases of minors being charged with this crime.

Some jurisdictions specify a minimum age difference in order for statutory rape to be applicable. For example, if the adult is only three years older than the minor, there can be no crime, or if the adult is found guilty, the penalty is significantly less severe. These laws are known as "Romeo and Juliet" laws.

What is the role of gender in statutory rape?

As mentioned, statutory rape is most common in adult males and younger females. In recent years, however, many cases have involved adult females and younger males. The high profile cases of Mary Kay Letourneau, Pamela Rogers Turner, Debra Lafave, and Pamela Smart are only some of the examples. In some jurisdictions, adult-minor sexual relationships may be penalized more severely when both parties belong to the same sex.

What are the punishments for statutory rape?

The offender serves some time in jail if found guilty of statutory rape. Many states also mandate that the guilty party undergoes counseling and get psychiatric treatment. The harshest punishment is the stigma that the offender has to endure for the rest of his or her life


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