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I'm 18 and Dating Someone Underage: Is it Illegal to Have Sex?

By Jordan Walker, J.D. | Last updated on

Raging hormones, butterflies in your stomach, make-out sessions when your parents aren't looking. Ahh, there's nothing like young love (or lust).

Many teens are sexually active. But did you know if you're 18 years of age or older and have a sexual relationship with someone younger, you could be committing statutory rape? Or if you're both younger than 18, you could still be breaking the law?

So hold off on the perfume and Axe body spray for now. This is a legal issue that unknowingly trips up countless teens. Here's what you should know about statutory rape laws.

What Is Statutory Rape?

Statutory rape is an act of sexual intercourse with someone younger than the legal age of consent. Calling it “rape" may make you think you're off the hook if you're both ready and willing. But the idea behind statutory “rape" is that the law doesn't consider the victim old enough to consent. The victim can be as willing as ever, but what matters is if they're old enough to legally consent.

Not all states have specific statutory rape laws. Most states prosecute statutory rape under other criminal offenses such as sexual contact, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and corruption of a minor.

To learn more about statutory rape, check out this comic from FindLaw:

But What if We Both Consented?

The age of consent measures when someone is legally capable of consenting to sexual activity. Its purpose is to protect minors who may lack the understanding of the importance of their decision to have sex.

The age of consent varies by state but is usually between 16 and 18. Most states do not have a single age for consent. Factors that can be considered when determining the age of consent for sexual relations include:

  • The age difference between partners
  • The minimum age of the victim
  • The minimum age of the defendant

This means the legality of sexual intercourse can depend on the victim's age, your age, and the age difference between you.

But We're In Love!

The law doesn't care if you're soulmates. Statutory rape is a strict liability crime. Just because both parties engaged in consensual sex doesn't make it legal. And the knowledge or intent that is typically required to commit criminal acts is irrelevant.

To establish statutory rape, a prosecutor doesn't have to prove either of your mental states, which is often a requirement for other criminal acts. A prosecutor just has to show that you, the defendant:

  • Engaged in sexual activity
  • With someone younger than the age of consent in that state

'Romeo and Juliet' Laws

Many states have enacted "Romeo and Juliet" laws designed to avoid charging minors with sexual offenses. These laws apply different rules to protect sexual partners who are close in age, but still too young to legally consent to sexual activity. For example, if you are 18 and your partner is 17, even though the law says that having sex with anyone under 18 is illegal. Common exemptions in Romeo and Juliet laws can:

  • Reduce a felony to a misdemeanor
  • Decrease the length of a sentence
  • Remove the requirement to register as a sex offender
  • Allow expungement of the offender's record

Penalties For Statutory Rape

Whether you are accused of statutory rape and charged with a misdemeanor or felony depends on state law and specific factors in your case. However, being accused of any sex crime is an extremely serious matter, and it is essential that you take steps to protect your legal rights and talk to a criminal defense lawyer. Penalties for a conviction may include fines, imprisonment, and in severe cases, registering as a sex offender.

Still want to hook up with someone younger? Try taking a cold shower.

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