Statutory rape is defined as sexual intercourse with a person who is legally unable to consent to such activity. This age of consent is statutorily determined by state law and typically varies from 16 to 18 years old. Pennsylvania’s age of consent is 16 years old, therefore anyone age 15 and younger is legally incapable of giving consent to engage in sexual intercourse with an adult.
Unlike the crime of rape, force and lack of consent are not required to be convicted of statutory rape. Even if the minor consented to sex and force was not used, the defendant may still be convicted of statutory rape. Statutory rape is generally considered a strict liability offense, therefore it is irrelevant whether the defendant believed that the victim was old enough to engage in sexual intercourse.
When two underage participants consent to and engage in sexual relations, some states will consider both participants guilty of statutory rape. However, other states, such as Pennsylvania, have exceptions to the rule. Pennsylvania’s “Romeo and Juliet” law, otherwise known as the close-in-age exemption, prevents the prosecution of two underage individuals who engage in consensual sex. The rationale is that although both individuals are below the age of consent, they are so close in age as to not their warrant conviction for statutory rape.
However, the prescribed age differential between the victim and defendant is four years, meaning that the age difference between them must be four years or less in order for the victim to be able to legally consent to sexual intercourse. However, individuals less than 13 years old may not legally consent to sexual intercourse. Those facing statutory rape charges in Pennsylvania may face up to 20 years in prison. A future post will discuss the differences between the crimes of statutory rape and forcible rape.