Houman Fakhimi

What is Statutory Rape?

California Sex Crimes Laws

So just what is statutory rape in California?

Simply stated, in California, statutory rape is an adult of legal age who engages in sexual intercourse with someone who is younger than the statutory age of consent. A very important element associated with this crime: statutory rape is considered a liability crime; this means consent of the younger person or being lied to about that younger person’s age is never a defense.

Note that every state is different in how it defines the crime and the legal age for consent.

In California, the legal age of consent is 18. It is a crime for anyone to engage in sexual intercourse with a minor unless they are married. California also has what is referred to as a tiered system. This means the greater the gap in age difference, the greater the penalty. If, however, the age difference between the two is three years – older or younger, the crime is a misdemeanor. Anything more than a three-year gap, the crime is then upgraded to a felony. If a person is older than 21 and he or she engages in sexual intercourse with someone 16 or younger, the penalties are more severe.

Differentiating the California Sex Crimes

It is also important to note that statutory rape is seen far differently than other types of rape and child molestation. Sex itself, is not a crime provided the involved parties are above the age of consent. Rape and child molestation is a crime, no matter the age. Another difference: forcible rape makes no difference in ages – if one is raped against his or her will, no matter the age, it is a felony. If an underage participant engages in sex willingly, it is a crime, but a different crime and not one with the same consequences.

There are other factors that can, though not always, shape a statutory rape charge:

  • The presence of drugs and/or alcohol
  • If the relationship is ongoing (between, say, a 17 year old girl and her 18 year old boyfriend who were perfectly legal in their actions until he turned 18 last week)
  • Family input
Romeo and Juliet Laws

It is important to note that California is not deemed a “Romeo and Juliet” state, meaning young couples who have not yet reached the age of consent cannot legally enter into a sexual relationship with one another. In fact, California is strict in this area: if a couple, both aged 16 years, are involved sexually, both can be charged with statutory rape because each was having sexual relations with a person younger than 18. This law stands, but is not always enforced.

Societal norms have shifted in the past century; people have longer life expectancies, people are not only graduating high school, but are attending college. There was a time when children not only did not attend college, but also left school in order to help on the family’s farm. They married far earlier and these laws and others similar to them simply did not exist. That is a bygone era; the laws were passed to better protect this country’s young people. Like other societal expectations, the laws change when they no longer serve a purpose.