These so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws provide defenses and reduced penalties in cases where the couple is relatively close in age.Depending on the state, Romeo and Juliet laws may reduce the severity of the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, reduce the penalty to a fine, probation, or community service, and/or eliminate the requirement that the convicted adult register as a sex offender.One particularly shocking case drew international attention when 17-year-old Georgia resident, Genarlow Wilson, was charged with aggravated child molestation and sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl.
All states have special provisions if any physical force was used or serious physical injury resulted.
Until recently, statutory rape laws applied only to females, ignoring situations involving sex between an adult female and underage male.
Take, for example, the widely publicized case of Marcus Dwayne Dixon, an 18-year-old high school honor student and star football player who had sex with a 15-year-old female classmate.
She claimed it was rape, he claimed it was consensual, and a jury acquitted him of the charges.
The Dixon case is just one in a long line of similar legal battles teens have faced in the last decade.
Whether you agree with this outcome or not, the fact remains that statutory rape is considered a serious crime, enforceable to the full extent of the law in many states – and can change the course of a teenager’s life forever.
The purpose behind most statutory rape laws is to punish grown adults who take sexual advantage of a minor.
Because the laws weren’t intended to punish two individuals close in age who engage in consensual sex, in many jurisdictions, an adult who is two or three years older than the minor will not be charged with statutory rape, or will be penalized less severely than a much older adult.
A two-year age difference isn’t particularly alarming, and dating is fairly standard at that age.