Sexual activity among children under the age of 18 is a sensitive subject in the United States. At the family level, many parents dread the day when they will be forced to have “the talk” with their children about sex, where babies come from, and the like. At the legal level, meanwhile, there is debate over when the right age is for young people to become sexually active.
Even though adolescents may be biologically ready to father/bear children themselves as a result of having gone through puberty, the law usually does not see them as mentally competent enough to engage in sex. Thus, there must be a minimum age of consent in place to spell out what conduct is acceptable for someone under the age of 18. Otherwise, violation of the legal age of consent could be a very serious crime.
First of all, though this may be evident, the legal age of consent in a particular jurisdiction is not the same thing as the legal age of marriage. The legal age of consent varies from State to State and country to country. In the United States, while age of consent starts at 16 for all districts, whether it reaches 17 or 18 depends on the area of jurisprudence. While legal age of consent is of primary concern to the individual charged with statutory rape or a similar offense, it may also be of note in cases of sexual acts where both participants are not of age. Depending on how close the young persons under the age of consent are in terms of age and depending on the State, teens may be protected by “Romeo and Juliet” laws.
Likewise imaginably, there are other special, mitigating circumstances when it comes to violations of legal age of consent. Aside from said Romeo and Juliet laws, in some places around the world, though often this is hard to prove, defendants may try to claim they believed a boy or girl was old enough for sex or were otherwise misled as to the juvenile’s age (e.g. by way of a fake ID). Some international jurisdictions, meanwhile, require sexual actors to be married prior to the act.