In Washington State, the age of consent for participation in sexual activity is 16 years old. Once an individual reaches the age of 16, they can legally consent to sexual activity with a legal adult who is 18 years of age or older. There are several exceptions to this rule, discussed below. The age of consent laws in the state of Washington are pertinent to both heterosexual and homosexual activity.

According to Washington law, "consent" means that at the time of the act of sexual intercourse or sexual contact there are actual words or conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact.

What are the Exceptions to Age of Consent Rule in Washington?

There are several exceptions where 16 year olds may not be able to consent to sexual activity. These are as follows:

  • When Sexual activity occurs between a foster parent and a foster child. If this type of sexual activity occurs, the age of consent is bumped up to 18. Thus, a foster child would have to be 18 to avoid the foster parent being in violation of the age of consent law.
  • When sexual activity occurs between a teacher (or school administration employee) and a student. In this case, the Supreme Court of the state of Washington has ruled that this law applies regarding students up to the age of 21. 
    • Therefore, a teacher who engages in sexual activity with a student under the age of 21 violates this law.
  • When sexual activity occurs between two parties who have a “significant relationship,” the older person is at least 60 months older than the younger person, and the older person abuses the relationship to bring about the sexual activity. In a “significant relationship,” the older person has/does:
    • Taken the responsibility, as a professional or as a volunteer, for providing education, health, welfare or recreational activities for minors;
    • As part of their job, supervise minors; and/or
    • As part of their job, provide care to the elderly and vulnerable.

What is the “Close in Age” Exemption?

Many states have laws allowing minors to consent to sexual activity with a person who is close in age to them, although they are below the age of consent. These laws are often referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” laws, which state that if one partner to the sexual activity is below the age of consent, but the partners are quite close in age, an exception is made to the law.

Washington does not have a Romeo and Juliet law, so it is still unlawful for someone under the age of 16 to engage in sexual activity with someone slightly older. For example, if one person who is two months shy of 16 engages in sexual activity with someone who has been 16 for two month, this technically still violates the law.

There is an exception to this, whereby the parties, if close in age, may lawfully engage in sexual activity if they are married. For instance, if:

  • The younger person is older than 14 but younger than 16, they may lawfully engage in sexual activity with their spouse as long as the spouse is less than 48 months older.
  • The younger person is older than 12 but younger than 14, they may lawfully engage in sexual activity with their spouse as long as the spouse is less than 36 months older.
  • The younger person is younger than 12, they may lawfully engage in sexual activity with their spouse, as long as the spouse is less than 24 months older.

As you can see from above, the trend for the exception is that the individuals involved are married. If you are not legally married and engage in sexual activity, then you will not be protected by the close in age exemption.

What are Washington’s Penalties for Violating the Age of Consent?

There are severe penalties for those who do violate Washington’s age of consent laws. Those under the age of 16 are children for the purposes of the law.  But If they have engaged in sexual activity with someone who is not their spouse, and who does not meet the close in age requirement, then the older person is guilty of rape of a child. Serious jail time and monetary fines are the penalties for these crimes.

Washington has a wide range of punishments depending on the exact nature of the crime. For example, there are three degrees of severity for Child Molestation, which can range from 5 years in prison to life in prison, as well as a fine of $10,000 to $50,000. However, each degree of severity is classified as a felony, which means a successful conviction can result in lifelong changes.

There are also three degrees of “rape of a child” which can result in 5 years in prison to life in prison, as well as a fine of $10,000 to $50,000. In these situations, both first and second degree Rape of a Child is considered a class A felony, and have similar levels of punishment. The difference between first and second degree are the the circumstances of the crime.

Finally, there is Sexual Misconduct with a Minor, which is either a low-grade felony or a gross misdemeanor. It can be punished by 1 to 5 years in prison and a fine of $5,000 to $10,000.

The type of severity of the charge is not always easy to determine before you are formally charged by the prosecutor. But once you know the exact charge, then you can better predict what sort of penalty or punishment you may be facing.

Should I Consult an Attorney If I Violated the Age of Consent in Washington State?

If you have been accused of statutory rape, or if you or your child are a victim of a violation of the laws as described above, a criminal defense attorney may be able to assist you. An experienced Washington criminal defense lawyer can help you either to deal with the charges you are facing, or in seeking a legal remedy for the abuse you or your child has suffered.