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Statutory Rape: A Guide to State Laws and Reporting Requirements

Summary of Current State Laws

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Contents

  1. Statutory Rape — Criminal Offenses
    1. Sexual Intercourse with Minors
    2. Definition of Offenses
  2. Child Abuse Reporting Requirements
    1. Inclusion of Statutory Rape in Reporting Requirements
    2. Mandatory Reporters
    3. Who to Report to
    4. State Response

Endnotes

Statutory Rape — Criminal Offenses

As noted above, few states use the term statutory rape in their codes. Instead, criminal codes specify the legality of specific sexual acts. The applicable laws are often embedded in the section of the code dealing with other sexual offenses (e.g., sexual assault, forcible rape).

This section summarizes some key provisions of state statutory rape laws.[9]  Subsection 1 examines the legality of sexual activities involving minors (e.g., age of consent). Subsection 2 describes briefly the variety of offenses delineated in state statutes.

Sexual Intercourse with Minors

States’ statutory rape offenses detail the age at which an individual can legally consent to sexual activity. This section focuses on laws addressing sexual intercourse.[10] Table 1 summarizes, where applicable, each state’s:

As the first column in Table 1 shows, the age of consent varies by state. In the majority of states (34), it is 16 years of age. In the remaining states, the age of consent is either 17 or 18 years old (6 and 11 states, respectively).

Table 1:
State Age Requirements
State Age of
consent
Minimum age
of victim
Age differential
between the victim and defendant
(if victim is above minimum age)
Minimum age of defendant
in order to prosecute
Alabama 16 12 2 16
Alaska 16 N/A 3 N/A
Arizona 18 15 2 (defendant must be in high school and < 19) N/A
Arkansas 16 N/A 3 (if victim is < 14) 20 (if victim is e 14)
California 18 18 N/A N/A
Colorado 17 N/A 4 (if victim is < 15), 10 (if victim is < 17) N/A
Connecticut 16 N/A[11] 2 N/A
Delaware 18[12] 16 N/A N/A
District of Columbia 16 N/A 4 N/A
Florida 18 16 N/A 24 (if victim is e 16)
Georgia 16 16 N/A N/A
Hawaii 16 14 5 N/A
Idaho 18[13] 18 N/A N/A
Illinois 17 17 N/A N/A
Indiana 16 14 N/A 18 (if victim is e 14)
Iowa 16 14 4 N/A
Kansas 16 16 N/A N/A
Kentucky 16 16 N/A N/A
Louisiana 17 13 3 (if victim is < 15), 2 (if victim is < 17) N/A
Maine 16 14[14] 5 N/A
Maryland 16 N/A 4 N/A
Massachusetts 16 16 N/A N/A
Michigan 16 16[15] N/A N/A
Minnesota 16 N/A 3 (if victim is < 13), 2 (if victim is < 16) N/A
Mississippi 16 N/A 2 (if victim is < 14), 3 (if victim is < 16) N/A
Missouri 17 14 N/A 21 (if victim is e 14)
Montana 16 16[16] N/A N/A
Nebraska 16 16[17] N/A 19
Nevada 16 16 N/A 18
New Hampshire 16 16 N/A N/A
New Jersey 16 13[18] 4 N/A
New Mexico 16 13 4 18 (if victim is e 13)
New York 17 17 N/A N/A
North Carolina 16 N/A 4 12
North Dakota 18 15 N/A 18 (if victim is e 15)
Ohio 16 13 N/A 18 (if victim is e 13)
Oklahoma 16 14 N/A 18 (if victim is > 14)
Oregon 18 15 3 N/A
Pennsylvania 16 13 4 N/A
Rhode Island 16 14 N/A 18 (if victim is e 14)
South Carolina 16 14 Illegal if victim is 14 to 16 and defendant is older than victim N/A
South Dakota 16 10[19] 3 N/A
Tennessee 18 13 4 N/A
Texas 17 14 3 N/A
Utah 18 16 10 N/A
Vermont 16 16 N/A 16
Virginia 18 15 N/A 18 (if victim is e 15)
Washington 16 N/A 2 (if victim is < 12), 3 (if victim is < 14), 4 (if victim is < 16) N/A
West Virginia 16 N/A 4 (if victim is e 11) 16, 14 (if victim is < 11)
Wisconsin 18 18 N/A N/A
Wyoming 16 N/A 4 N/A
Note: Some states have marital exemptions. This Table assumes the two parties are not married to one another.

A common misperception about statutory rape is that state codes define a single age at which an individual can legally consent to sex. Only 12 states have a single age of consent, below which an individual cannot consent to sexual intercourse under any circumstances, and above which it is legal to engage in sexual intercourse with another person above the age of consent. For example, in Massachusetts, the age of consent is 16.

In the remaining 39 states, other factors come into play: age differentials, minimum age of the victim, and minimum age of the defendant. Each is described below.

Minimum age requirement. In 27 states that do not have a single age of consent, statutes specify the age below which an individual cannot legally engage in sexual intercourse regardless of the age of the defendant (see the second column in Table 1). The minimum age requirements in these states range from 10 to 16 years of age. The legality of sexual intercourse with an individual who is above the minimum age requirement and below the age of consent is dependent on the difference in ages between the two parties and/or the age of the defendant.

Age differential. In 27 states, the legality of engaging in sexual intercourse with minors is, at least in some circumstances, based on the difference in age between the two parties (see the third column in Table 1). In 12 of these states, the legality is based solely on the difference between the ages of the two parties. For example:

Minimum age of defendant in order to prosecute. Sixteen states set age thresholds for defendants, below which individuals cannot be prosecuted for engaging in sexual intercourse with minors (see the last column in Table 1).

States that set a minimum age of the defendant also tend to have minimum age requirements for the victim. Often, the age of the defendant is only relevant if the victim is above the minimum age requirement.

Some states define minimum age thresholds for defendants and age differentials.

Definition of Offenses

States’ laws addressing sexual activity involving minors are usually included in the section of the criminal code devoted to sexual offenses. Each state summary (Section III) includes a table detailing all of the offenses in the statute that deal with statutory rape.

As noted above, most states do not have laws that specifically use the term “statutory rape;” only five include the offense of statutory rape.[20] More often, state statutes include a variety of offenses addressing voluntary sexual activity involving minors. In New Jersey, for example, sexual activities involving minors is addressed in three offenses: criminal sexual contact, sexual assault, and aggravated sexual assault. The ages of the victim and the defendant as well as the nature of the sexual activity dictate under which offense the conduct falls.

In some cases, provisions addressing statutory rape are embedded in rape or sexual assault laws that typically apply to violent offenses. For example, New Hampshire defines “felonious sexual assault” as voluntary sexual penetration with someone who is at least 13 years of age and under 16 years of age, as well as acts involving the use of physical force irrespective of the age of either party. Other states have separate offenses specifically concerned with sexual crimes involving a minor. For example, Alaska’s statute includes four offenses that deal specifically with the sexual abuse of a minor.

State statutes also use a variety of terms when referring to sexual acts (e.g., sexual intercourse, sexual penetration, sexual contact, indecent contact), and the definitions of these terms are not always consistent across states. The descriptions of the offenses within each state summary use the specific terms from the statutes and the summaries include footnoted definitions of these terms whenever the statutes provide them.

Understanding the different terms used in a state statute is especially important in those states where an individual may be able to legally consent to one type of sexual activity but not another. For example, Alabama’s laws regarding the legality of sexual activities with individuals who are under 16 years of age and more than 12 years of age differ depending on the nature of the activities. In cases involving sexual intercourse, defendants over 16 years of age who are at least 2 years older than the victim are guilty of rape in the second degree. However, sexual contact is only illegal in cases where the defendant is at least 19 years of age.

More often though, all of the acts will be illegal (with the same age requirements), but the severity of the punishment will differ based on the type of sexual activity. In Kentucky for example, sexual activities with children under 12 years of age are illegal regardless of the age of the defendant. If the activities amount to sexual contact, the defendant is guilty of first degree sexual abuse (a Class D felony); if they amount to sexual intercourse, the defendant is guilty of first degree rape (a Class A felony).

Although the primary focus of this report is not the punishments associated with statutory rape, the offenses in each state summary are listed in ascending order based on their severity.[21] The severity of the crime is usually dependent on the nature of the sexual activities and the age of the victim and/or defendant.[22]

Depending on the state, defendants may be exempt from prosecution if they are married to the victim. In some states, marriage is a defense to all of the crimes listed (e.g., Alaska, District of Columbia, West Virginia); other states exclude some of the more aggravated offenses from this exemption (e.g., Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi).[23] In a few states, the criminal statutes identify age limits for the marriage exemptions.[24] Individual state summaries note those crimes that include spousal exemptions.[25]

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Child Abuse Reporting Requirements

Statutory rape reporting requirements are generally found in the sections of states’ codes that deal with juveniles, children and families, domestic relationships, or social services, whereas the criminal or penal codes address the legality of specific offenses. This section of the report summarizes states’ child abuse reporting requirements and the extent to which they address the issue of statutory rape. It is divided into four subsections.

Inclusion of Statutory Rape in Reporting Requirements

State statutes vary in the extent to which statutory rape is included in the reporting requirements. In approximately one-third of the states, mandated reporting is limited to those situations where the abuse was perpetrated or allowed by a person responsible for the care of the child.[26] Consider the example of Virginia. Child abuse, a reportable offense, is defined to include any sexual act that is in violation of the state’s criminal law, but it is limited to those acts perpetrated by the victim’s parent or other person responsible for the child’s care.

In two-thirds of the states, the statutes specify circumstances under which child abuse is a reportable offense irrespective of the defendant’s relationship to the victim. In some states, the definition of child abuse includes all of the statutory rape offenses detailed in the criminal code (e.g., North Dakota, Ohio, and Wyoming). In such cases, mandated reporters are required to notify the proper authorities if they suspect that a child has been a victim of any of these offenses. More often, states vary in terms of the applicability of the reporting requirements. The following examples illustrate the variation among these states.

In some states, there are only a few specific circumstances under which offenses not involving a person responsible for a child are considered reportable offenses. In Minnesota, for example, such a case is only a reportable offense if the reporter suspects that a defendant has sexually abused two or more children not related to the defendant in the past 10 years. Rhode Island law only requires reports of non-familial cases in two situations: (1) if the defendant is less than 18 years of age; or (2) if the mandated reporter is a physician or nurse practitioner who treats a child who is less than 12 years of age and has been infected with a sexually transmitted disease. In Iowa, the reporting requirements only pertain to cases involving someone responsible for the care of the child in question. However, a separate provision requires mandated reporters to notify the proper authorities of all cases of sexual abuse involving a victim under 12 years of age regardless of the defendant’s relationship to the victim.

In other states there are fewer limits on the applicability of reporting requirements to statutory rape. Often, such limitations are based on the age of the victim and/or the defendant. For example, in California all sexual activity involving minors is illegal. However, the reporting requirements only apply to the violations of certain criminal offenses—namely, those addressing situations involving victims under 16 years of age where there is an especially large difference in the age of the two parties.[27]

In those states where the definition of child abuse does not explicitly refer to statutory rape, discrepancies between the legality of certain sexual activities and whether they are reportable offenses are more common. Take the following examples:

Mandatory Reporters

Each state’s reporting requirements identify certain individuals who are required to notify the authorities of suspected abuse. Although it varies by state, mandated reporters are typically individuals who encounter children through their professional capacity. In Pennsylvania, the statute requires all individuals who encounter a case of abuse through their professional capacity to make a report. More often, a state’s statute will refer to a number of specific professions.[29] Common professions include: physical and mental health providers, teachers, child care workers, legal professionals (e.g., judges, magistrates, attorneys, law enforcement officers), clergy members, and employees of state agencies that deal with children and families.[30] In addition, some states designate any individual who provides care or treatment to children as a mandatory reporter (e.g., Alabama, Missouri, Montana). In 18 states, any individual who suspects that a child has been the victim of abuse is required to notify the proper authorities.[31]

In terms of physical and/or mental health providers (e.g., physicians, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, dentists, surgeons, osteopaths), statutes often make specific reference to providers who treat adolescents who are pregnant or infected with sexually transmitted diseases. For example, in Texas any individual who suspects child abuse is required to notify the proper authorities. However, the law also includes more specific reporting requirements for individuals who work with children in a professional capacity, including employees of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services.

In some states, a child who is pregnant or infected with a sexually transmitted disease is sufficient to cause reasonable suspicion of abuse, thereby necessitating a report. In Rhode Island, as noted above, the law requires reports of non-familial cases in two situations, one of which is if the mandated reporter is a physician or nurse practitioner who treats a child less than 12 years of age who is infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Michigan also requires medical providers to report all cases where a child under 12 years of age is pregnant or has a sexually transmitted disease. In contrast, California law states that “the pregnancy of a minor does not, in and of itself, constitute a basis for a reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse.”[32] The California Court of Appeals has similarly found that mandated reporters are not required to report cases in which a minor is found to have a sexually transmitted disease.[33]

Few states allow mandated reporters to exercise discretion in deciding which cases to report. Consider the following three exceptions:

Who to Report to

To varying degrees of specificity, all state statutes provide mandated reporters with instructions for the reporting process.[34] States generally require that mandated reporters notify the appropriate authorities within one to three days of encountering a case of suspected abuse. Mandated reporters can usually make an initial report orally, via telephone.[35] Approximately two-thirds of states require mandated reporters to follow their initial report with a more detailed written report.[36]

The reporting laws usually specify one or more agencies to which reports should be made. Mandated reporters in the majority of states may notify the state or county agency (or its designee) responsible for social or human services, children and families, or child protection.[37] In roughly two-thirds of states, mandated reporters have the option of notifying law enforcement agencies or prosecutors’ offices instead of the child protection agency.

States differ with respect to whether mandated reporters must notify an agency’s state office or one of its local offices—typically the one in the local jurisdiction in which the offense took place or the victim resides.

The only states in which the child protection agency is not designated to receive reports are those with separate reporting procedures for cases not involving abuse perpetrated by a person responsible for the victim. Take the example of Louisiana. Mandated reporters must notify the local child protection unit of the Department of Social Services if they suspect abuse perpetrated by: the victim’s parent or caretaker; a person who maintains an interpersonal dating or engagement relationship with the parent or caretaker; or a person living in the same residence with the parent or caretaker as a spouse whether married or not. In all other cases, the report must be made to a local or state law enforcement agency.

West Virginia is another example of a state where the reporting requirements depend on the nature of the offense. Local child protective services agencies are responsible for receiving reports of child abuse. If the report alleges sexual abuse, the mandated reporter must also notify the Division of Public Safety and the law enforcement agency with investigative jurisdiction.

State Response

Each state summary highlights the required response of the state and local agencies that receive reports of suspected child abuse. State statutes vary in the level of detail they provide. Generally they include requirements addressing which entities, if any, the agency receiving the initial report must notify, the timeframe for this notification, and the requirements for investigating reported abuse.

States have two primary objectives when responding to allegations of child abuse: (1) ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of the child in question, taking the necessary steps to prevent further harm and (2) conducting an investigation to determine if the reported abuse constitutes a criminal act and, when appropriate, prosecuting offenders.

In most states, the responsibility for the initial investigation of reported child abuse falls to law enforcement, the state agency responsible for child protective services, or some combination of the two.

In some states, the responsibility for the initial investigation depends on the relationship between the victim and the defendant. In North Carolina, the county Department of Social Services is generally responsible for the initial investigation of reported abuse. However, cases alleging abuse by a person not responsible for the care of the victim must be immediately forwarded to law enforcement and the district attorney’s office. Such provisions are common in states where the definition of child abuse does not include statutory rape. Consider Iowa, where statutory rape is only included in the definition of child abuse—thereby making it a reportable offense—if the victim is under 12 years of age. The agency responsible for receiving and investigating reports of child abuse (the Department of Human Services) must refer to the appropriate law enforcement agency all cases that would constitute child abuse if not for the fact that the act was perpetrated by someone not responsible for the care of the child.

Generally, law enforcement is responsible for conducting investigations into criminal acts, whereas child protective services and human services agencies are primarily concerned with the well-being of the victim. For example, in Rhode Island, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families investigates all reported abuse. If the Department’s investigation indicates that the child in question has been the victim of criminal abuse, the Department transfers the case to law enforcement so that it may initiate a criminal investigation.

Increasingly, states are emphasizing interagency collaboration in child abuse investigations. Almost one-half of states statutes require the involvement of multiple agencies in investigations. There is wide variation among states in the level of cooperation mandated by their statutes. Often law enforcement and child protective services maintain their traditional roles, and the laws focus on information sharing and maximizing the relative strengths of each agency. Nevada law states that if the initial evaluation of the report, conducted by the child welfare services agency, indicates that if an investigation is warranted, the agency and law enforcement must cooperate with one another and coordinate their investigation. Similarly, Hawaii statutes require the Department of Human Services to provide police and prosecutors with any relevant information that would aid in the investigation or prosecution of child abuse cases.

States can formalize such cooperation by requiring relevant agencies to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for responding to reported abuse. In Ohio, the county public children services agency (usually the Department of Job and Family Services) is responsible for preparing the MOU. The MOU must delineate the roles and responsibilities of each partner and establish processes for coordinating investigations. The agency must ensure that the following officials sign the MOU: a juvenile judge in the county; the county peace officer, chief municipal peace officers, and local other law enforcement officers that handle abuse cases; the prosecuting attorney of the county; and the county humane officer. The primary goal of Ohio’s MOU is to eliminate unnecessary and redundant interviews with victims.

Other states require that multi-disciplinary teams assume responsibility for the investigative process. The District of Columbia Code mandates that all child sexual abuse investigations be conducted by a multi-disciplinary team that must include at least one representative from: law enforcement, social services, child advocacy centers, and the city and federal prosecutors’ offices. Additional individuals eligible for inclusion in multi-disciplinary teams include: representatives from the public schools, mental and physical health practitioners, child development specialists, and victim counselors. Teams’ efforts are to be governed by a written protocol outlining investigative responsibilities, prosecutorial procedures, and treatment options and services for both victims and defendants.

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Endnotes

[9] Although the federal government’s jurisdiction is limited, the United States Code does include statutory rape laws. See 18 U.S.C.A. § 2241 and § 2243.

[10] There are some cases where a state’s laws regarding sexual intercourse are not consistent with one or more of its laws governing other types of sexual acts. For example, in South Dakota, engaging in sexual penetration with someone between 10 and 16 years of age is illegal unless the defendant is less than 3 years older than the victim. However, sexual contact with someone who is less than 16 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant (in State v. Darby, 556 N.W.2d 311, 127 (SD 1996), the South Dakota Supreme Court found that these two offenses can be mutually exclusive). Such instances are identified in the appropriate state summaries.
[11] Engaging in sexual intercourse with someone who is less than 16 years of age is legal under certain circumstances. However, sexual contact with someone who is less than 15 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant.
[12] Sexual acts with individuals who are at least 16 years of age are only illegal is the defendant is 30 years of age or older.
[13] Intercourse with a female who is less than 18 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant. However, sexual acts not amounting to penetration are legal under certain circumstances in cases where the victim is at least 16 years of age.
[14] It is illegal to engage in a sexual act with someone who is less than 14 years of age regardless of the age of the defendant. However, sexual contact or sexual touching with someone who is less than 14 years of age is legal under certain circumstances.
[15] It is illegal to engage in a sexual penetration with someone who is less than 16 years of age. However, sexual contact with someone who is at least 13 years of age is legal under certain circumstances.
[16] Sexual intercourse with someone who is less than 16 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant. However, sexual contact with someone who is at least 14 years of age is legal under certain circumstances.
[17] Under the offense, “Debauching a minor,” it is illegal to debauch or deprave morals by lewdly inducing someone less than 17 years of age to carnally know any other person.
[18] It is illegal to engage in a sexual penetration with someone who is less than 13 years of age regardless of the age of the defendant. However, sexual contact with someone who is less than 13 years of age is legal under certain circumstances.
[19] Engaging in sexual penetration with someone who is at least 10 years of age and less than 16 years of age is legal under certain circumstances. However, sexual contact with someone who is less than 16 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant.
[20] The Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, and Tennessee statutes include the offense of statutory rape. The situation in which an act would be considered statutory rape differs by state. The crime of statutory rape in North Carolina is also referred to as “sexual offense of person who is 13, 14, or 15 years old.” In addition to the five states listed, the Pennsylvania statutes include the offense of “statutory sexual assault.” Similarly, “statutory sexual seduction” is a crime in Nevada.
[21] It is important to note that this ordering is inexact. The statutes often provide a range of sentences and this ordering does not take into account the effect of any sentencing recommendations in the statutes or other documents.
[22] Most statutes categorize crimes based on the severity of the act (e.g., 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree rape). The state summaries note those cases where, within a specific crime, the severity varies depending on the age of the defendant. For example, Georgia law considers the crime of statutory rape to be a felony unless the victim is 14 or 15 years of age (the age of consent is 16) and the defendant is no more than 3 years older than the victim, in which case the offense is only a misdemeanor.
[23] In Arkansas, marriage is a defense to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degree sexual assault but not rape.
[24] In South Carolina, the spousal exemption does not apply to marriages entered into by a male under 16 years of age or a female under 14 years of age.
[25] It is important to note that this report does not address state laws governing the age at which individuals can marry.
[26] Usually, persons responsible for the care of a child include parents, guardians, custodians, caretakers, or individuals living in the same house as the child. The exact definitions vary by state.
[27] Although the reporting requirements in many states make reference to one or more of the state’s statutory rape laws, California is somewhat of an exception in that the reporting requirements are included in the same section of the statutes (the penal code) as the criminal laws addressing sexual activities with minors.
[28] 2002 Conn. AG Lexis 33, September 30, 2002
[29] As the primary focus of this project is reporting requirements as they affect HHS grantees, the state summaries tend to include an abbreviated list emphasizing those professions more relevant to the project. For example, although most states identify coroners and medical examiners as mandated reporters, they have been omitted from the state summaries.
[30] Most state statutes in which members of the clergy or attorneys are mandated reporters designate certain communication to be privileged and therefore exempt from these requirements. Such laws are described within the state summaries where appropriate.
[31] Almost all state statutes include a provision indicating that anyone is allowed to report suspected abuse.
[32] California Penal Code, §11166
[33] Planned Parenthood Affiliates v. Van De Kamp, 226 Cal. Rptr. 361 (1986); People ex rel. Eichenberger v. Stockton Pregnancy Control Medial Clinic, Inc., 249 Cal. Rptr. 762 (1988).
[34] Although many states’ statutes also include instructions for non-mandatory reporters who wish to report suspected abuse, the state summaries do not discuss these provisions.
[35] Some state statutes require the state agency responsible for receiving reports to maintain a toll-free hotline for the sole purpose of receiving reports.
[36] Nine of these states only require a follow-up report if the agency receiving the report requests one.
[37] The exact titles of these agencies vary by state.


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