Statutory Rape

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Statutory rape is a strict liability crime. It is defined as “sex between an adult and a minor below the age of consent at the time the offense takes place” (Uslegal.com). This also includes persons who lack the ability of consenting to sex because of physical and mental incapabilities. The Model Penal Code lists Statutory Rape as, “male who has sexual intercourse with a female not his wife, or any person who engages in deviate sexual intercourse or causes another to engage in deviate sexual intercourse, is guilty of an offense if:(a) the other person is less than [16] years old and the actor is at least [four] years older than the other person; or (b)the other person is less than 21 years old and the actor is his guardian or otherwise responsible for general supervision of his welfare." An offense under section 213.3(a) is a felony in the third degree whereas an offense under section (b) is a misdemeanor (Wikipedia). The age of consent is different in many states but ranges from sixteen to eighteen. Many jurisdictions also have an age difference between the two consenting autonomous individuals. For example, in the state of Maryland, a close in age exemption is made if one individual is 15 and the other is 17. This is referred to Romeo and Juliet laws which many states have adopted.

Under early common law, a male could not be charged with rape if the female agrees with the act (Miller 1994:289). England later codified its statutory rape laws and in the Statue of West Minister of 1275, the age of consent was twelve years old. The offense was made capital in 1285 and was lowered to the age of 10 in 1576. Sex under the age of ten was considered a felony. (Britannica) Colonial America later adopted these laws and while some states kept the age of consent at ten, other chose twelve (though Delaware’s age of Consent was seven at that time). The rationales behind these laws were less about the lack of consent but more about protecting the virtue of a white woman which was a “commodity of property” (Edison 1980:760). In the 1981 Supreme Court statutory rape case of Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma, Justice Brennan made note that, “because their chastity was considered particularly precious, those women were uniquely in need of state’s protection”(450, US 464[1981] at 494-495]. In today’s law, the determining factor of statutory rape is age based and the laws protect children from predators.

In the 1890’s and 1970, statutory rape laws were reformed by religious conservatives and feminists as well as the age of consent. The age of consent went from 10-12 to 16-18 while Tennessee raised theirs to 21. They also felt that statutory rape laws protected females from older males but not male from older females. Male legislators tried to fight this because they felt like a man would be denied sex from younger women in an era where teen marriage was prevalent and that men of any age who were expressing natural desires would be punished for engaging in sex with consenting young women. The raising of the laws also bought on the ideas of not just about virginity but also about “seduction,” which punished sexual activity with a woman of previous virtuous character, generally under promise of marriage (Brenan 1980a:191). Legislators believed that young women would be tricked into marriage if they had sex with a man.

In today’s society, statutory rape is gender neutral and not just from protection of females; men are guarded as well in most states. Statutory rape must between a certain number of years of the two consenting individuals to keep from being prosecuted or the two individuals must be at the age of consent. The penalty for a guilty verdict ranges from a misdemeanor to more serious offenses. This law is still on the books because legislators believe that it protects children who lack the mental capacity to make the decision to have sex and keeps adults from preying on children. The logic behind this is understandable but...
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