Criminal Law. The term statutory rape refers to the criminal act of having sexual intercourse with a person below the age of consent.
The offense of statutory rape is aimed at protecting underage youth who may be too immature to make knowing decisions about sexual activity. Thus, the victim’s consent is not a defense to statutory rape. Further, statutory rape is a strict liability criminal offense and the intent to have sex with a minor is not an element of the crime. Thus, for example, if a man meets a girl at a bar and he is under the mistaken belief that the girl is of legal age and sleeps with her, he would still be guilty of statutory rape.
In most states, the punishment for statutory rape offense is approached under two separate categories:
- Sexual intercourse with a very young child (e.g., twelve years of age or younger) is punishable at the level of forcible rape; and
- Sexual intercourse with an older youth, who still is under the age of consent, is treated as a lesser degree felony.