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- Statutory Rape: The Age of Consent | LegalMatch Law Library
- Age of consent for sexual activity in Canada
The purpose behind most statutory rape laws is to punish grown adults who take sexual advantage of a minor. The following are just a few examples of Romeo and Juliet laws currently in place in the United States:. Exceptions and Other Considerations In addition to Romeo and Juliet laws, some states have specific exemptions when both parties to the sexual act are minors, or the person to be charged is legally married to the minor. However, there are still restrictions in some states about the type of sexual activity that is permissible, such as oral sex and sodomy, as well as restrictions on relationships involving a minor and a person of authority, including teachers, coaches, or tutors.
All states have special provisions if any physical force was used or serious physical injury resulted. Until recently, statutory rape laws applied only to females, ignoring situations involving sex between an adult female and underage male.
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Today, most laws are gender neutral, and a number of women in authority positions such as Mary Kay Letourneau, Debra Lafave, Pamela Rogers Turner, and Pamela Smart have been prosecuted for engaging in sexual relationships with younger males. Does the Punishment Fit the Crime? While many states have strict statutory rape laws on the books, prosecutors have been inconsistent in enforcing them, says Mark Chaffin, a researcher with the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth.
One particularly shocking case drew international attention when year-old Georgia resident, Genarlow Wilson, was charged with aggravated child molestation and sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a year-old girl. Georgia law, which has since been changed to classify this act as a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of one year in prison, also required Wilson to register as a sex offender when he was released. Are Statutory Rape Laws Outdated? Statutory rape laws are based on the premise that although young girls may want to have sex, they may not have enough experience or discernment to make a mature, informed decision.
The laws are designed to protect young people who have less information and power than their and-over counterparts.
Legal Ages of Consent By Country
For example, minors may be less likely than adults to understand sexually transmitted diseases, have access to contraception, and have the resources to raise a child if they become pregnant. Most people believe there is a clear line between young people wanting to date and have sex, and adults molesting or assaulting a child. Journal List Paediatr Child Health v. Steven Bellemare , MD. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer.
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Accepted May To this effect, there are a few notable exceptions to the law: Youth 12 or 13 years of age can consent to nonexploitative sexual activity with peers when the age difference is no more than two years. For example, a year-old child is deemed capable of consenting to sexual activity with a year-old, but not a year-old. Youth 14 or 15 years of age can consent to nonexploitative sexual activity when the age difference is no more than five years.
For example, a year-old can consent to having sexual intercourse with a year-old, but not with a year-old.
An act to amend the criminal code age of protection and to make consequential amendments to the criminal records Act, LSE. The term age of consent rarely appears in legal statutes. It has sometimes been used with other meanings, such as the age at which a person becomes competent to consent to marriage ,  but the meaning given above is the one now generally understood.
It should not be confused with other laws regarding age minimums including, but not limited to, the age of majority , age of criminal responsibility , voting age , drinking age , and driving age. Age of consent laws vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,  though most jurisdictions set the age of consent in the range 14 to The laws may also vary by the type of sexual act, the gender of the participants or other considerations, such as involving a position of trust ; some jurisdictions may also make allowances for minors engaged in sexual acts with each other, rather than a single age.
Charges and penalties resulting from a breach of these laws may range from a misdemeanor , such as corruption of a minor , to what is popularly called statutory rape. There are many "grey areas" in this area of law, some regarding unspecific and untried legislation, others brought about by debates regarding changing societal attitudes, and others due to conflicts between federal and state laws.
These factors all make age of consent an often confusing subject, and a topic of highly charged debates. In traditional societies, the age of consent for a sexual union was a matter for the family to decide, or a tribal custom. In most cases, this coincided with signs of puberty , menstruation for a woman, and pubic hair for a man. Reliable data for ages at marriage is scarce.
In England, for example, the only reliable data in the early modern period comes from property records made after death. Not only were the records relatively rare, but not all bothered to record the participants' ages, and it seems that the more complete the records are, the more likely they are to reveal young marriages. Modern historians have sometimes shown reluctance to accept evidence of young ages of marriage, dismissing it as a 'misreading' by a later copier of the records.
In the 12th century, Gratian , the influential founder of canon law in medieval Europe, accepted the age of puberty for marriage to be around twelve for girls and around fourteen for boys but acknowledged consent to be meaningful if both children were older than seven years of age. Marriage would then be valid as long as neither of the two parties annulled the marital agreement before reaching puberty, or if they had already consummated the marriage.
The first recorded age-of-consent law dates from in England; as part of its provisions on rape, the Statute of Westminster made it a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age," whether with or without her consent.
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The phrase "within age" was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke England, 17th century as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was twelve years of age. The American colonies followed the English tradition, and the law was more of a guide. In the 16th century, a small number of Italian and German states set the minimum age for sexual intercourse for girls, setting it at twelve years.
Statutory Rape: The Age of Consent | LegalMatch Law Library
Towards the end of the 18th century, other European countries also began to enact similar laws. The first French Constitution of established the minimum age at eleven years. Portugal, Spain, Denmark and the Swiss cantons initially set the minimum age at ten to twelve years. Age of consent laws were, historically, difficult to follow and enforce: In Christian societies, sex outside marriage was forbidden. Older children were themselves often punished for being complicit in sexual interaction with an adult.
Age of consent for sexual activity in Canada
By the midth century there was increased concern over child sexual abuse. A general shift in social and legal attitudes toward issues of sex occurred during the modern era. Attitudes on the appropriate age of permission for females to engage in sexual activity drifted toward adulthood. While ages from ten to thirteen years were typically regarded as acceptable ages for sexual consent in Western countries during the midth century,  by the end of the 19th century changing attitudes towards sexuality and childhood resulted in the raising of the age of consent.
English common law had traditionally set the age of consent within the range of ten to twelve years old, but the Offences Against the Person Act raised this to thirteen in Great Britain and Ireland. Early feminists of the Social Purity movement , such as Josephine Butler and others, instrumental in securing the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts , began to turn towards the problem of child prostitution by the end of the s.
Sensational media revelations about the scourge of child prostitution in London in the s then caused outrage among the respectable middle-classes, leading to pressure for the age of consent to be raised again. The investigative journalist William Thomas Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette was pivotal in exposing the problem of child prostitution in the London underworld through a publicity stunt. In he "purchased" one victim, Eliza Armstrong , the thirteen-year-old daughter of a chimney sweep , for five pounds and took her to a brothel where she was drugged. The "Maiden Tribute" was an instant sensation with the reading public, and Victorian society was thrown into an uproar about prostitution.
Fearing riots on a national scale, the Home Secretary , Sir William Harcourt , pleaded in vain with Stead to cease publication of the articles. A wide variety of reform groups held protest meetings and marched together to Hyde Park demanding that the age of consent be raised. The government was forced to propose the Criminal Law Amendment Act , which raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen and clamped down on prostitution.
In the United States, as late as the s most states set the minimum age at ten to twelve in Delaware, it was seven in The campaign was successful, with almost all states raising the minimum age to sixteen to eighteen years by In France , Portugal, Denmark, the Swiss cantons and other countries, the minimum age was raised to between thirteen and sixteen years in the following decades. In France, under the Napoleonic Code , the age of consent was set in at eleven,  and was raised to thirteen in In Spain , it was set in at "puberty age", and changed to twelve in ,  which was kept until , when it became 13;   and in it was raised to In the 21st century, concerns about child sex tourism and commercial sexual exploitation of children gained international prominence, and have resulted in legislative changes in several jurisdictions, as well as in the adoption of several international instruments.
The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children , which came into force in , prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children. The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings which came into force in also deals with commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Several Western countries have raised their ages of consent recently. These include Canada in —from 14 to 16 ; and in Europe, Iceland in —from 14 to 15 , Lithuania in —from 14 to 16 , Croatia in —from 14 to 15 , and Spain in —from 13 to Sexual relations with a person under the age of consent is a crime in most countries, exceptions to this include, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
Jurisdictions use a variety of terms for the offense, including child sexual abuse , statutory rape , illegal carnal knowledge , corruption of a minor ,  besides others. The enforcement practices of age-of-consent laws vary depending on the social sensibilities of the particular culture see above. Often, enforcement is not exercised to the letter of the law, with legal action being taken only when a sufficiently socially-unacceptable age gap exists between the two individuals, or if the perpetrator is in a position of power over the minor e. The sex of each participant can also influence perceptions of an individual's guilt and therefore enforcement.
The threshold age for engaging in sexual activity varies between jurisdictions see above. Most jurisdictions have set a fixed age of consent. Ages can also vary based on the type of calendar used, such as the Lunar calendar ,  how birth dates in leap years are handled, or even the method by which birth date is calculated. The age of consent is a legal barrier to the minor's ability to consent and therefore obtaining consent is not in general a defense to having sexual relations with a person under the prescribed age, for example:.
A growing number of countries have specific extraterritorial legislation that prosecutes their citizens in their homeland should they engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with children.