That sounds like a pretty practical question. We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet. Older boy falls in love with younger girl. Older boy is forbidden to date younger girl. Younger girl plans way to be with older boy with dreadful consequences.
Then as now, two teens having consensual sex is common.
In the U.S., legally speaking, there’s little distinction between ” Romeo and Juliet’s” mutual decision and the abusive actions of a child molester. An older teen who has sex with his/her younger girlfriend/boyfriend can be arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for the act. Even worse, he/she may carry the stigma of being labeled a sex offender for the rest of their life.
When it comes to sexual relationships between minors and adults, those who say “age is just a number” are usually trying to justify the indefensible. On the other hand, it defies everything we’re learning about adolescent development to say that an 18 year-old guy and a 40-something man should always be punished equally for a consensual relationship with a 15 year-old girl. So where—and how—do we draw the right line?
Today’s statutory rape laws can all be traced back to late 19th-century reforms. Colonial America, following English common law, established an age of consent at 10 or 12. A young woman’s pre-marital chastity was a commodity, and a man who deprived her of her virginity without benefit of marriage committed a property crime against her father. It wasn’t until the 1890s that the age of consent was raised, thanks to the efforts of an unlikely coalition of progressive feminist activists and religious conservatives. As they would a century later in the battle against pornography, these strange bedfellows found common ground in the desire to protect teen girls from predatory older men. Together, suffragists and morality crusaders successfully raised the age of consent to at least 16 in every state by 1900.
- age of consent 16 (30): Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia
- age of consent 17 (9): Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Wyoming
- age of consent 18 (12): Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania
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