Findings From a Survey of State Legislators

In 1997, under a cooperative agreement with the Office for Victims of Crime of the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Bar Association (ABA) Center on Children and the Law surveyed all States regarding statutory rape legislation they had considered within the last few years—from 1995 to early 1997. This Handbook is based on that survey. In addition, the ABA staff reviewed current laws and other literature on the topic.

The survey findings included the following amendments to existing statutory rape laws. The States enacted these amendments between January 1995 and January 1997:

  • Raising the age of the minor who is subject to protection by the law. North Carolina and Pennsylvania raised the age of the minor—up to 16 years—who is subject to protection under the criminal unlawful sex laws. North Carolina did so as part of amendments that created different offenses based on the age of the minor and the age gap between the minor and the defendant. Under the new statute, sex with 13- to 15-year-olds is now a crime.

  • Age gaps. Along with raising the age of the minor, North Carolina and Pennsylvania also imposed age gaps. If the minor is above a certain age, a crime is committed only if the defendant is a specified number of years older than the minor (5 years in North Carolina and 4 years in Pennsylvania).

  • Impregnation of a minor as a separate offense. Florida passed several provisions regarding unlawful sex with minors. Impregnation of a minor is now a separate offense, and defendants may be liable for child support and related medical expenses. If paternity is established in cases involving defendants 24 years or older, child support must be paid.

  • Targeting much older defendants. Two States increased the possible sentence when the defendant is significantly older than the minor. Delaware increased the possible sentence when the defendant is 10 or more years older than a minor under 16, and Georgia increased the sentence to a mandatory 10 years when the defendant is 21 years old or older. Florida rewrote one of its laws so that persons 24 or older are prohibited from having sex with 16- and 17-year-olds.

  • Possibility of civil penalties. California has authorized civil penalties ranging from $2,000 to $25,000 for this crime. The amount depends upon the age of the defendant and the age gap between the defendant and the minor. Moneys collected will be used to reimburse the costs of prosecution, with the remainder placed in an Underage Pregnancy Prevention Fund.

  • Encouraging reporting. Tennessee passed a bill encouraging, but not requiring, health care providers to report statutory rape, defined in Tennessee as sexual assault on minors 13 to 15 years old. Reporting is already mandated for children under 13. Florida passed legislation making sex with children under 16 child abuse if the offender is 21 or older.

Below is proposed legislation considered by 13 other State legislatures that was not enacted during their most recently completed session.2

  • Expanded scope of laws/raising age of protected minor. Indiana and Washington considered providing criminal penalties for men 21 years old and older who have sex with a minor who is either 16 or 17 years of age, respectively. Washington would also have required the defendant to be in a position of authority. Both proposals included restitution. Hawaii, Mississippi, and Utah considered raising the age of the minor protected under statutory rape laws. Utah would have raised the age to 18; Mississippi would have raised it from 14 to 16 years of age. Hawaii considered several proposals on raising the age, which is now the lowest in the country at 14 years.

  • Prosecution grants, penalties for parents’ failure to seek prosecution. New York and Connecticut considered authorizing grant programs for statutory rape prosecution. Connecticut considered imposing criminal penalties against parents who fail to seek prosecution of a man engaged in a sexual relationship with their daughter if she was under 16 and knew the offender.

  • Mandatory reporting. Tennessee and Virginia considered legislation requiring the report of statutory rape under mandatory child abuse reporting laws.

  • Penalties associated with pregnancy. Illinois and Oregon considered increasing the penalties for statutory rape if a pregnancy results.

  • Mandatory minimum sentence. Massachusetts considered a 1-year mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant is 18 years old or if there is a 5-year age difference between the minor and the offender.

  • Exemption to precondition for benefit eligibility. New Hampshire considered adding statutory rape as an exemption to establishing paternity as a precondition to eligibility for State public assistance benefits.

Previous Contents Next