Statutory rape is probably–no, definitely–the most controversial topic for you, our readers. Not something super divisive like abortion or feminism, statutory rape. Every time we write about it we get a ton of comments claiming that we’re being unfair, that we don’t believe in true love and that we’re old fuddy duddies who aren’t getting any. Well, I can assure you, we’re none of those things, but we are definitely young women who are trying to look out for y’all.
Love is love, but laws are laws and sketchy is sketchy. When it comes to statutory rape, sometimes there’s a shade of gray that makes things complicated, but we’re going to try to keep it real. So here’s everything you need to know about statutory rape.
What is statutory rape?
Statutory rape is sexual activity between two people in which one person is under the age of consenting to sexual activity in the first place.
So it’s not real rape?
Well, rape is about consent. If you’re underage you can’t consent to having sex. See? It’s not necessarily the violent rape you’re probably thinking of, but it’s still a form of rape.
Okay, how do I find out what the age of consent is where I live.
Yeah, it’s such a faux pas to link to Wikipedia, but they have an extensive list of the age of consent in every single country/state/territory on the planet so there you go.
Wait, so if I’m under the age of consent then what happens if I have consensual sex with someone else who is also under the age of consent?
Well, in some states then technically both of you have broken the law. But jaywalking is also against the law and people do that all the time. The point I’m making is that unless someone goes out of their way to bring you and your boo to court, you’re safe to continue doing whatever you two are doing.
Isn’t it sort of stupid for a law to determine how old I have to be to consent to sex?
Yes and no. Everyone matures at different ages; some 16-year-olds are more mature than 20-year-olds and are able to make smarter decisions about sex than their elders, that’s true. But one of the best ways to understand why statutory rape laws are in place is to look outside of how mature you think you are and think about things a little more generally. For example, with age differences comes a power play. Come on, we all know that there’s a difference between a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old being in a relationship compared to a 14-year-old and a 30-year-old. Statutory rape laws are generally far more concerned with the latter. They protect kids and teenagers from manipulative predators who can easily manipulate their way into a younger person’s heart and bedroom.
Okay but what if the age difference is super tiny! what if I’m 16-years-old and my boyfriend just turned 18-years-old? Can he be charged with statutory rape?
Now, here’s where things get a little funky and there’s a name for this funkiness: Romeo and Juliet laws. Sort of dramatic sounding, right? Trust, it’s really not as over the top and fatal as it sounds. Basically, Romeo and Juliet laws reduce or terminate the penalty of statutory rape in cases in which the age difference between two sexually active and consenting partners–one above and one below the age of consent–is very minimal. This means that some statutory rape laws exclude situations where the age difference fits a particular time frame, like if the older partner was less than three years older than you, or if you were over a certain age–say, 14–when you two had sex. Some even disregard cases in which the sexual relationship started before one of the partners was over the age of consent. For example, you’re 16-years-old, your partner just turned 18-years-old and the age of consent is 17-years-old; if you and your partner were having sex then both of you were under the age of 17, some laws protect your older partner from getting in trouble.
Other laws make statutory rape charges involving minor age differences less severe, but still pretty intense; some charge the older partner with a misdemeanor instead of a felony, others promise that their record will be erased after serving a certain amount of time in jail and there are even laws that require the older partner to register as a sex offender for a given period of time in leu of jail.
Again, these provisions are only applicable if the age difference between you and an older partner fits within a given time frame of whatever statutory rape laws apply to where you live.
So if you’re a little lost, think of it this way: Romeo and Juliet laws are in place to protect teens and young adults within a certain age range from getting in trouble just because they’re getting it on. One thing that sucks about these provisions, however, is that some less progressive states or countries make sure that Romeo and Juliet laws don’t apply to same-sex couples. How ridiculous is that?
But if I was hooking up with, say, my soccer coach or something then–
Yeah, no, most laws are not going to protect your (creepy) coach in that case. Why? Because like I said earlier the law also acknowledges power play. A teacher or coach or another adult is in a position of authority and power over someone who is underage, period. Seriously, no matter how mature you are, that person is still a “grown up” (for lack of a better term) who is in a position of power over you, the student/teen. Honestly, your teacher, coach, whatever should know better than to engage in a relationship with you if you’re underage. They’re supposed to be there to guide you through a certain subject or skill, not guide you to the bedroom. Don’t feel like the weird one here, seriously.
Also, LOL, bye bye career if they’re caught.
If one of your underage friends is in a relationship with a teacher, please tell someone. No, really, nobody is fit to teach at a school if they’re going to creep on their students. Imagine if your little bro or sis was getting hit on by their teacher. Naw…
What if my parents are okay with our relationship!
Doesn’t matter, it’s not like they’re approving of you two to be legally married or something.
Age is nothing but a number. Stop lecturing us!
Um, it’s a little more complicated than that. When you’re oder, age starts to matter less. But when you’re still a teenager, age differences are a way bigger deal. Hell, by the time you’re in 10th grade, the 7th graders all seem so tiny, right? Now multiply that and you’ll get a better idea of the weirdness.
Think of it this way: Imagine being 17 and dating someone six years younger than you. That’s an 11-year-old! You’re at a totally different stage of life and maturity at 17 than you are at age 11. If you’re 28 and dating a 22 year old, there is way less of a huge maturity difference. If you’re 15 and dating someone who is 25, however, you’re also at very different stages of life. A 23 year old would be out of college trying to live their life. Most 15 year olds are still in high school and aren’t even allowed to drive yet, let alone get served at a bar like their 23-year-old boyfriend. As someone who is 23 right now, the idea of dating someone who is 15-years-old makes my head spin. Teenagers are livin’ their teenage lives, going to school, worrying about college apps, etc. When I was 15 those were my biggest worries, on top of whether or not my crush noticed me and dealing with my parents. But now, as a 23-year-old? Um, I’m worried about paying rent, getting to work on time, and…still wondering if my crush notices me but still, the point is that life is just different. It’s still fun and exciting, but you’re looking at life through a very different perspective. I was mature for my age as a teenager, people always thought I was older than I was. The fact that I was tall and was an only child (SO MANY ADULTS ALL THE TIME) helped, on top of the fact that I was well spoken and pretty smart; I was talking to adults about politics and current events all the time! But no matter how mature I was, in retrospect I know that I wasn’t as mature as I am now that I’m sort of an adult.
So I’m going to tell you from my point of view why something just smells off when someone in their 20s and older is dating a teenager. While I interact with awesome teenage girls on the internet all the time (uh, pretty rad job) I’d still have to go out of my way to hang around enough high schoolers in real life enough to fall in love with one. So imagine that from someone who doesn’t have a job talking to teen girls about style and boobs…most people don’t have that job. If I knew that any of my friends were trying to hook up with underage high school kids, I’d be freaked out. I know that it seems cool to be 16 and have someone in their mid-20s or older take a liking to you. It’s like, wow, you’re finally hanging with a guy who is more mature than the goofs in your grade; someone who doesn’t think that fart jokes are witty. Yeah, if you’re a straight girl then high school boys can definitely suck, but you have to ask yourself a few questions about a considerably older partner, too. Are they going to still be into you when you’re not a teenager anymore? Do they just have a thing for underage girls? Why aren’t they dating women in their age range? No, seriously, why can’t they get a woman their own age?
I’m immediately reminded of R. Kelly who had a relationship with the late (and great) singer Aaliyah back in the ’90s. She was 15 when he was 27. She forged legal documents so that it looked as if she was 18-years-old when they decided to marry each other. They got annulled a year later. Flash forward to 2002 when Kelly 35 and was allegedly caught on tape having sex with an underage girl. It’s not like he just happened to be in love with Aaliyah way back when and she just happened to be underage; this dude clearly has a thing for underage girls. Some dudes are just like that and you have to wonder why. You don’t want to end up being some dude’s one true love until you’re no longer an underage teen anymore.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who said that when she was in high school she had a 25-year-old boyfriend. She said, “it was the coolest, because I was way mature for my age.” They dated until her parents found out and were absolutely furious. She had a bit of a smile and a faraway look in her eye as she reflected on her time dating this dude, but then made a point to say, “In retrospect, I’m glad my parents were pissed off. They should have been. That dude shouldn’t have been wanting to hang out with a teenage girl in the first place, that’s just…weird.”
I know, this seems like a very western approach to ages and life stages and I know that this varies from culture to culture, but work with me here. But it’s telling that in some countries there are movements in place protecting underage girls from adult men who are trying to put a ring on it, so looking out for young girls and teens is a priority for many women around the world, not just me!
But people my own age are so immature!
Dealing with immature people as teenagers is just part of the journey, girl. The answer isn’t to date your cute science teacher or some random 30-year-old dude.
Some people in those relationships really work out, though!
Sure, but do we want Mary Kay Laterno scenarios to be the foundation for every successful teen relationship? Not so much.
For those of you who don’t know, Laterno was a teacher who, at the age of 34, had a sexual relationship with her 12-year-old student. After serving jail time, they got married. Yeah…can we get a hell to the no?
Do you think stat rape laws are too strict? Have you or a friend ever been in a regretful relationship with a much older person? Tell us in the comments?