Could you be charged with statutory rape? This term, referring to what is essentially sexual assault of a minor, can be very confusing to those accused of wrongdoing. Unlike many other sexual assault cases, one involving a minor uses age as a factor. But it goes beyond whether or not the other party was 18. Which factors could affect your case? Here are three key age-related elements which have some of the biggest effects.
1. Age of Consent
The age of majority in the United States is 18, and this is the age at which a person becomes a legal adult. However, there is another designation in many states. The age of consent stipulates at what age a minor is permitted to legally consent to sexual relations. This age varies, but it could be several years before the age of majority. If the minor can legally consent, consensual sex is not necessarily assault.
2. Age Differences
How much of an age difference is there between yourself and the minor? And why would this matter?
The world of older teens often overlaps with the world of young adults. So it's not unheard of that a young legal adult would choose to enter a relationship with an older teen minor. Some states recognize this tendency and account for it within their statutory rape laws. If there are only a few years of difference in ages, so-called 'Romeo and Juliet' laws may factor in.
3. Honest Mistake Defense
Finally, your state may take into account a defendant's assertion that they had a legitimate reason to believe the minor could consent. Perhaps the minor showed fake identification, for example, or you believed that your relationship fell under the age difference rules. In these cases, the burden is still on the adult under statutory rape laws.
However, how much investigation is expected of an adult if they have good reason to believe the minor is over the age of consent or majority? The answer varies by jurisdiction, and it will depend on the strength of your defense case. This is not a slam-dunk defense, of course, but it can be compelling if you show that you entered into the sexual relationship in good faith.
Where Should You Start?
Successfully defending yourself against charges of statutory rape or other sexual assault of a minor is difficult. The best resource you can have is a qualified criminal defense attorney familiar with the details of your state's laws. Contact an attorney to learn more about child sexual assault laws.