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Are There Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

Statutory rape is an unusual crime with very few defenses. Even if an underage partner consents to sex, relations with that partner are against the law and will be charged criminally, regardless of use of force.

People below a certain age cannot legally consent to sex. Statutory rape laws exist to protect children, even from themselves, so if a youth says they are of age to consent, that has historically not been a defense. Meanwhile, the consequences for an adult charged with this crime have been severe. But as times and norms have changed, states too have started to modify the laws.

Statutory Rape Defenses

Today, in some places and depending on the facts of the case, there are some defenses to statutory rape. Historically, however, statutory rape was a strict liability crime, meaning there were no defenses.

All a prosecutor had to prove was a victim's age and that there were sexual relations with the defendant, and that sufficed for a conviction. But now in some states there are defenses to statutory rape depending on certain factors, including the age difference between the participants or the victim's age.

It should be noted that there is a lot of variation on statutory rape laws from state to state. You must check the statutes in your state to determine minimum age of consent and available defenses.

Some states now do allow the defense of unawareness of the victim's age. But even where this is permitted, there are limits. There are also places where a defendant who is very close in age to the victim is charged and punished less severely, given the proximity. When both participants are underage, some states allow a "Romeo and Juliet" defense, which can serve either as a total defense against charges or a factor with respect to the severity of the offense. Again, it depends on the state.

Consult With Counsel

As you can see, it is difficult to speak meaningfully about statutory rape defenses generally because there is so much variation in the laws around the country. That said, statutory rape remains a serious charge and one that can have severe consequences -- defendants can go to prison and even end up as registered sex offenders.

If you or someone you know has been charged with this crime or any other, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney today.

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