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Rape Crimes Defined, Common Defenses and Rape Penalties

The crime of rape generally refers to non-consensual sexual intercourse that is committed by physical force, threat of injury, or other duress.

Common law defined rape as unlawful intercourse by a man against a woman who is not his wife by force or threat and against her will. However, most states have refined and broadened the statutory definition of rape so that marriage, gender, and force are not relevant. The victim's lack of consent is the crucial element. A lack of consent can include the victim's inability, due to the effects of drugs or alcohol, to say "no."

Rape Laws in General

To convict an offender of rape, some form of nonconsensual sexual penetration, however slight, must occur. Each instance of penetration can serve as a count of rape, as well.

The most common form of rape is forcible rape, in which an offender uses violence or threats of violence to force a victim into sexual intercourse. In most states, however, rape can also occur with other forms of duress, such as blackmailing the victim.

Prosecutors can charge rape when an offender and victim have a preexisting relationship (including so-called date rape), or even when the offender is the victim's spouse.

In some states, rape is classified as first-degree sexual assault. The term sexual assault is broader than rape and covers a whole range of nonconsensual sexual contact.

Statutory Rape Laws

The crime of statutory rape refers to sexual intercourse with a minor (someone below the age of consent). Minors who are below the age of consent cannot legally consent to having sex. This means that sex with them violates the law even if they signal their agreement.

Statutory rape laws vary by state, with states setting the age of consent differently. Many states punish statutory rape under laws addressing sexual assault, corruption of a minor, or carnal knowledge of a child. In more than half of the states, statutory rape is a felony only if one of the participants is at least several years older than the other; if the two people are extremely close in age, but one of them is underage, some states will not treat this as a crime or may treat it just as a misdemeanor. However, not all states have "close-in-age" laws.

Defenses to a Rape Charge

One of the frequent defenses to a rape allegation is misidentification of the perpetrator. For example, if a man is accused of a rape that occurred in Denver on November 1, he can present evidence that he was actually in Phoenix on that day.

When the alleged offender and victim were personally acquainted beforehand, the most common defense is that the victim consented. In some instances, such as a date rape involving two individuals who had been drinking alcohol, the issue of consent can become murky or complex.

Penalties for Rape

The punishment for any form of rape is generally a lengthy prison sentence, the specific duration of which will be based on the laws of your state. In addition, a convicted defendant normally will have to register as a sex offender for life.

Get Professional Help With Your Rape Case

With the variations of rape laws across the states, some situations can fall into gray areas where it's not so clear whether a crime was committed. There's also the possibility of false allegations being raised against you. If you've been charged with rape or any other crime, it's a good idea to contact a defense attorney who will help you defend yourself against the accusation and fight to protect your legal rights. Contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer near you today to learn more.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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