In the United States, the age of consent is the legal age at which a person is considered mature enough to consent to sex. However, the actual age is set by individual state laws. Sexual relations with an individual under the state's mandated age of consent is deemed as statutory rape, since rape is generally defined as sex without the other's consent, and anyone under the age of consent does not have the ability to consent in the eyes of the law. This is true in some jurisdictions, even if both partners are themselves younger than the age of consent, and both parties could technically be prosecuted. Every U.S. also sets a minimum age for marriage to prevent child marriage.
One or more charges may be used to prosecute violations of a state's age of consent laws, such as statutory rape or the state's equivalent of that charge. The severity of the criminal charge (e.g., Class A felony, Class B felony, misdemeanor, etc.) depends on the specific acts committed and the relative ages of the perpetrator and victim. Those found guilty face fines and jail time, as much as $25,000 and fifty years in prison, depending on the state.
Age of Consent Range in the United States
The states' laws differ, and the minimum age of consent in the United States is 16, and the maximum is 18 years old. From time to time, states do update their laws, including the age of consent. For example, from 2018 to 2019, Wyoming and New Mexico raised their age of consent from 16 to 17. In some states, there is a close-in-age exemption. Some states stipulate this to allow an exception when consensual sex involves an individual, or individuals underage and the partners are close in age.
This age-dependent exemption is also known as the "Romeo and Juliet law" and is designed to prevent the prosecution of underage couples who engage in consensual sex when: both participants are close-in-age and one or both are below the age of consent. As of July 2019, 25 states and the District of Columbia have a close-in-age of exemption, and 25 states do not. The allowed age difference is typically in the two to five-year range. Still, Utah's close-in-age exemptions allow teens aged 16 to 17 years old to consent to partners less than seven years older and partners between seven to ten years older if the partner had no reasonable knowledge of the minor's age.
Then there are other exemptions and specifics depending on the particular state. These can greatly vary and can become quite complicated. For example, in North Carolina, it is a crime regardless of age to sexually engage with a student if the defendant is a: school teacher, student-teacher, school administrator, school safety officer, coach, or other school emploiyees at the child's school.
If the two partners are married, then the age of consent does not apply. As you can see from the North Carolina example, the age of consent laws become complicated depending on what state's laws are in effect. For this reason, short reviews for eight other states are included below.
Age of Consent: 18 Close-in-age Exemption: No
With just under 40 million people, California is the most populous state. Its age of consent is 18, and anyone seventeen or under is considered incapable of consenting to sex in California. So, anyone having sex with a partner under eighteen is theoretically committing a crime. Even if both partners are under eighteen, technically, both can be prosecuted under the state's law.
California's statutory rape law is violated when a person has consensual sexual intercourse with an individual under age 18 who is not their spouse. Punishments vary depending on the respective ages of both victim and offender. Separate crimes exist for sodomy with minors and sexual intercourse with a child under age 14 when the attacker is at least seven years older. California has seven statutory sexual abuse charges on the books.
Age of Consent: 17 Close-in-age Exemption: No
Another populous state, the Texas statutory rape law is violated when a person has consensual sexual intercourse with an individual under 17. While there is no close-in-age exemption, potential defenses exist when the offender is no more than three years older than the victim and of the opposite sex. Sexual intercourse between an employee of a school and a student is prohibited unless they are married. No age of consent is specified in the special instance of a school employee and student who engaged in sexual intercourse. Texas has five statutory sexual abuse charges on the books.
Age of Consent: 18 Close-in-age Exemption: Yes
As one of the retirement destinations in the U.S., the state is the third most populous, and the age of consent is 18. So, anyone 17 or under is considered incapable of consenting to sex. Florida does have a close-in-age exemption, or Romeo and Julie, law, but it is different. It allows minors aged sixteen or seventeen to engage in consensual sexual intercourse with a partner no older than 23. Florida has four statutory sexual abuse charges on the books.
Age of Consent: 16 Close-in-age Exemption: Yes
While the age of consent is 16, Alabama's statutory rape law is violated when an individual over the age of 18 engages in sexual intercourse with a person over the age of 12 and under age 16. Or when a person 16 or older engages in sexual intercourse with a victim that is at least two years younger. Additionally, an offender commits the crime of sodomy if an individual age 16 or older engages in deviate sexual intercourse with a person under 16 and older than 12, which is enforced as a statutory charge. Alabama has ten statutory sexual abuse charges on the books.
Age of Consent: 16 Close-in-age Exemption: No
When a person has consensual sexual intercourse with an individual under the age of 16 who is not their spouse, the Georgia statutory rape law is violated. While no close-in-age exemption exists in Georgia, if the offender is under age nineteen and the victim is no more than four years younger, the offense is classified as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Georgia has eight statutory sexual abuse charges on the books.
Age of Consent: 17 Close-in-age Exemption: No
New York statutory rape law is violated when a person has consensual sexual intercourse with an individual under 17, to whom they are not married. Punishment varies depending on the age of the offender. Also, in New York, there is no defense based on a lack of knowledge of the victim's age. New York has 15 statutory sexual abuse charges on the books.
Age of Consent: 16 or 18 Close-in-age Exemption: Yes
If both parties are under eighteen, Pennsylvania has an age of consent of sixteen years old. Or, if the defendant is eighteen or older, the age of consent is 18. The state's statutory rape law defines the age of consent as 16, and it conflicts with another law; Pennsylvania's corruption of minors statute indicates that the age of consent is 18. This has produced some confusion since the laws allow teens 16 and 17 to consent to each other, but not 18 or older. Teens between 13 and 15 may or may not be able to consent to a partner less than four years older. It is uncertain because while a defendant might not be affected by the statutory rape laws, they could be prosecuted under other offenses. Pennsylvania has six statutory sexual abuse charges on the books.
Age of Consent: 16 Close-in-age Exemption: Yes
Ohio statutory rape law is violated when a person has consensual sexual intercourse with an individual they are not married to under the age of 16. A close-in-age exemption exists, allowing minors aged 13 and older to consent to a partner under 18. Ohio has five statutory sexual abuse charges on the books.
In North Carolina, the age of consent is 16; however, there are a lot of exceptions to the general rule.
For example, anyone who is employed in an elementary, middle, or high school cannot engage in sexual activity with any student. The only exception would be if the teacher is married to that student.
Engaging in sexual activity with someone under the age of 16 is prohibited by the laws of North Carolina unless the defendant is less than four years older than the other person involved.
In North Dakota, the age of consent is 18. There is a close in age exemption for children between the ages of 15 and 17 as long as the other partner is less than 3 years older than the person under the age of 18.
There are multiple categories for the punishment of sexual activity between someone over the age of 18 and someone under the age of 18. For example, an adult who attempts to engage in a sexual act with a minor commits a Class A misdemeanor if the minor is 15 years of age or older. On the other hand, if the minor is under the age of 15, the crime is a class C felony.
In Oklahoma, the age of consent is 16. There is a close in age exemption in Oklahoma if the minor is over the age of 14 and the other party is 18 years of age or younger.
Employees of the local school system are not allowed to have sexual contact with a student in that school system even if the teacher is close to the age of 18 and the student is over the age of 16. Unless the student is married to the teacher, the state of Oklahoma considers this to be rape.
In the state of Oregon, the age of consent is 18. Sexual offenses related to the age of consent are broken into multiple categories. If the victim is under the age of 18, the crime is defined as a Class A misdemeanor. If the victim is under the age of 16, the crime is a class C felony. If a victim is under the age of 14, the crime is a class B felony. If the victim is under the age of 12, the crime is a class a felony.
Furthermore, Oregon has a close in age exemption of 3 years. This is not an exemption that can apply to the class a felony above.
In Rhode Island, the age of consent is 16. An 18-year-old is not allowed to have sexual intercourse with someone aged 14 or 15. This is deemed third-degree sexual assault. Someone over the age of 18 who has sex with someone under the age of 14 has committed child molestation.
There is a close in age exemption in Rhode Island. Children who are aged 16 or 17 are allowed to have consensual sex with someone aged 14 or 15.