It’s a common story, a modern Romeo and Juliet tale, if you will. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy ends up in jail because he was legally too old to have sex with girl.
Boy’s life is ruined, he is placed on the sex offender registry, and girl is devastated. It can go the other way too, but in the courtroom, it’s typically the boy who goes on trial.
In their premise, statutory rape laws are meant to protect teens from adults, but too often the court cases focus on relationships between teens who view themselves as peers in a consensual relationship. This complicates the situation, since the teen treated as a victim under the law may not agree with the court’s view of the relationship.
Though there are ways to mitigate the consequences of consensual relationships between teens, even when they’re legally fraught, the most important thing parents can do is talk to teens about statutory rape, how to protect themselves, and protection of those they care about.
It’s one thing to pursue this charge in cases of a true violation, but something else to force young people into an adversarial process that has serious and potentially lifelong consequences.
Statutory Rape: a Quick Breakdown
Statutory rape can take several forms, depending on the circumstances. In Indiana, any sexual contact with someone under age 14 can lead to a charge of child molestation, while a relationship between a person over 21 and someone between 14 and 16 is regarded as sexual misconduct.
Finally, when the relationship occurs between someone under 21 and a teen fewer than four years younger than the offender, an experienced lawyer can typically develop a consent-based defense.
Different jurisdictions will handle statutory rape cases in different ways, based on legal frameworks as well as precedents. Similarly, age-of-consent laws vary by state and by the partner’s age.
Parents should investigate their local legislation before talking to their teens about statutory rape and its consequences.
A Question of Power
One of the easiest ways to frame conversations about statutory rape with your teen is by talking about power. Start with the kinds of encounters such legislation was originally meant to govern.
Talk to your teen about how it feels when an adult asks her or him to do something. Does your youngster feel like he or she has the power or right to say “no” to adults? What might an adult do, say, or offer that could influence their decisions?
Because adults have the authority and financial means that position them above their teenage targets, it can be hard for teens to say no even when they want to. They may also feel flattered or assume they’ll receive special privileges if they have sex with an adult.
This is manipulation, and a core reason for the existence of statutory rape laws. Of course, your teen may not readily accept this logic; that might not be in his or her nature.
In fact, statutory rape laws themselves don’t easily jibe with teen psychology. Many adolescents lack the ability to make considered decisions in tense or socially loaded situations because their frontal lobes are not yet fully developed.
Given time and sufficient information, they can make intelligent decisions, but consenting to sex is not necessarily something that occurs in one of those situations. Discussing statutory rape with your teen is worthwhile, then, precisely because it’s a time in which he or she can gather the information to make a good decision and set preemptive boundaries.
This is especially true if your son or daughter realizes that setting boundaries will also protect someone else that they care about.
As noted earlier, one of the most common applications of statutory rape law is to punish essentially consensual relationships between peers who happen to fall on opposite sides of age-of-consent laws. This is where talking to your teen becomes especially important — because he or she could be the one who faces prosecution.
Or the accused could be the person they’re dating. Or their friend. Or a teammate. Regardless of how strongly both people want to become more intimate, having sex could ruin both of their lives.
One way to emphasize this is by offering real examples of teen relationships that were severely altered by statutory rape convictions. A Michigan mother tells the story of how her 18-year-old son began dating a 14-year-old high-school classmate.
In Michigan, age of consent is 16. After they had sex, he was given a year in jail and three years’ probation under statutory rape laws. After he was released, they resumed dating.
Because the girl was still under 16, he ended up back in jail for 5 to 15 years for violating his probation. The consequences will affect him for the rest of his life.
Though many parents and teens might agree that the problem here was the law, not the teens, the fact is that teens need to understand how they can put their relationships at risk when they behave contrary to the dictates of the law. You might also want to refer them to teen-focused resources like this discussion of statutory rape.
Understanding that a lot of teens find themselves facing such tough decisions in their relationships can drive home how important the topic is, and encourage them to talk about it with their peers and partners.
Taking on Teens, Sex, and the Law
Ultimately, most cases of statutory rape between teens go to court only when a parent or other involved party brings the case to the attention of the authorities. That’s the reason most teens assume they don’t have to worry about it.
But it’s not right for teens to enter into relationships without knowing what could happen. They’ll never learn to make smart, informed decisions if we don’t give them the tools.
Of course, there are times when statutory rape laws are entirely relevant, and that’s where we come in. At Rowdy G. Williams Law Firm, we take the sexual violation of minors seriously and will do everything we can to bring offenders to justice.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your family navigate the murky waters of teen sexuality, abuse, and consent. When adults break the bonds of trust and hurt our children, that’s when parents must step up and seek appropriate restitution through the courts.