The modern definition of rape can vary widely in each state. Traditionally it was considered sexual intercourse between a man and a woman that was done forcibly against the woman's will. However, many states do not put as much emphasis on the "forcible" requirement now, so that situations like a man having sex with a drugged woman, or a man using false pretenses to have sex with a woman, could be considered rape.
In many states rape laws are gender-neutral, so they apply not only to acts between a man and a woman, but also between individuals of the same sex.
What Is Statutory Rape?
While the statutes defining statutory rape vary from state to state, it is usually the act of sexual intercourse by an older person with a female who is considered a minor. It is common for states to define it in a two-level approach:
- Sexual intercourse with a very young girl (exact age limit varies from state to state) is punishable at the level of forcible rape
- Sexual intercourse with an older girl (especially if the man is older by a certain number of years) is usually considered a lesser degree felony
Does Statutory Rape Apply to Young Boys?
Most statutes refer to victims and perpetrators as "persons" rather than mention a specific gender or sex. However, enforcement of statutory rape laws against adult women who have sex with boys below the age of consent is not always reported and not always prosecuted. State prosecutors don’t always bring charges against women who commit statutory rape against minor boys because there is a social stereotype that the teenage or minor boy was "lucky" or that the statutory rape was okay because the boy wanted the sex.
If you believe a young boy was the victim of statutory rape, you should report it to the police. The state might not prosecute it, but that’s for prosecutors to decide, not average citizens.
What about Homosexual Statutory Rape?
Statutory rape between homosexuals is broken down into two groups:
- Man/Boy: The man will almost certainly be prosecuted.
- Woman/Girl: Mostly untested. The first case to gain publicity was controversial. Some argued that the 18 year old woman was taking advantage of the 14 year old girl. Others argued that it was a case of homosexual discrimination.
What Is the Penalty for Committing Rape?
Besides homicide, rape is generally considered the most serious crime. The penalties for rape vary from state to state, but commonly the maximum penalty is life in prison or a lengthy sentence of many years.
Are There Any Defenses to Statutory Rape?
There are a few defenses to statutory rape:
- Mistake of age: The defendant can argue that he or she believed that the victim was over the age of consent. However, this defense varies from state to state. Some states hold that statutory rape is a crime of strict liability; it doesn’t matter what the defendant believed. Other states will limit mistake of age to certain circumstances. Other states will allow the defense if the defendant can show they had a reasonable basis for their mistaken belief about age.
- Rape by fraud: The defendant argues that the minor purposely misrepresented his or her age to have sex with the defendant. In other words, the defendant is the victim of the minor’s twisted desire to have sex with someone older than the law permits. This defense is very new, so it will be difficult to guess whether this defense has any legitimacy.
- "Romeo and Juliet": Many states have exceptions to statutory rape based on the age difference between the partners.
- Mental Incapacity: The defendant argues that he or she is insane.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I am Charged with Rape?
A criminal defense attorney can be vital to defending rape charges. A criminal defense lawyer knows your state's rape laws and has experience defending people charged with similar crimes.