Introduction

This Training Guide contains practical suggestions to increase the reporting of statutory rapes, to improve investigations and prosecutions of statutory rapes, to improve treatment of statutory rape victims and offenders, and to develop sound sentencing practices to guide judges in statutory rape cases. The goal of this Training Guide is twofold: to improve the response of care providers and the criminal justice system to vulnerable young victims and to hold responsible the adult offenders. To adequately address the complexities involved in statutory rape cases, this Training Guide is based firmly on a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach that involves victim advocates, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, mental health providers, health workers, school officials, and other teen program professionals.

This Training Guide is based on extensive telephone interviews with prosecutors, victim advocates, police, and judges in six jurisdictions that were identified in a previous American Bar Association (ABA) study as having promising approaches to statutory rape cases. The six jurisdictions are Maricopa County, Arizona; Dade County, Florida; Marion County, Indiana; Jefferson County, Kentucky; Pontiac, Michigan; and Clark County, Nevada. The interviews focused on two points: How did professionals in these jurisdictions handle statutory rape cases? What suggestions could they offer other communities to help improve their response to victims and offenders in statutory rape cases? In addition, investigators made onsite visits to five locations: Alameda, San Diego, and Santa Clara Counties, California; Baltimore City, Maryland; and Onondaga County, New York.

The need for this Training Guide is evidenced by findings from an exploratory ABA project in which prosecutors and service providers nationwide reported the following findings: an increase in statutory rapes; the devastating impact of these crimes on teens; teens’ common failure to see themselves as victims; the reluctance of social service providers to report these crimes to the police; the reluctance of prosecutors to prosecute these crimes; and the reluctance of juries to convict the perpetrators of these crimes. Below is more discussion of these points.

  • Service providers are often reluctant to report to criminal justice officials cases of young teens involved in sexual relationships with older adults for fear that reporting such cases will break the confidentiality established with the teen, causing the teen to abandon counseling and other services. Service providers are also concerned that prosecution may not be warranted in these cases.

  • Law enforcement often assigns statutory rape cases a much lower priority than incest and forcible rape cases with young children. There is a belief among criminal justice officials that investigation and arrest are a waste of time because prosecutors will not prosecute except in the most egregious cases.

  • Victim advocates and prosecutors are often frustrated by the teens’ unwillingness to cooperate in the prosecution of their “partners.” They are frustrated, too, by the difficulty of convincing jurors of the crime’s seriousness.

  • Teens and adults in these cases often come from dysfunctional families and have a host of problems underlying the sexual activity. To stop the cycle of victimization and abuse, these underlying problems must be dealt with. For example, the teens and adults involved in statutory rape cases often suffer from low self-esteem, lack of education, emotional immaturity, irresponsibility, lack of healthy maternal and paternal role models, lack of parenting skills and financial resources to support any babies that result, health problems, and so on. No one agency can respond to all of these problems.

  • Factors such as lack of communication and coordination, mistrust, turf issues, lack of resources and commitment to these cases, and failure to see the importance of these cases often lead to fragmented services rather than a coalition of agencies (school personnel, mental health and health practitioners, service providers, law enforcement representatives, victim advocates, prosecutors, and judges) coming together in a multiagency, communitywide approach to handling these cases.

This Training Guide is also needed because the term “statutory rape” has made a resurgence in the lexicon of American jurisprudence. The attention to this crime is relatively recent; historically, statutory rape victims have been underserved by the criminal justice system. The lukewarm response to allegations of sexual misconduct between adults and teenagers is often blamed on two overlapping factor—the “victims” believe they have consented to the sexual relationship and teenage witnesses lack credibility with jurors (members of both grand juries and trial juries). These two factors have discouraged police and prosecutors from charging adults under existing State laws that make sexual contact with 12- to 16-year-olds illegal in most States.

Ignoring a class of victims because they pose prosecutorial difficulties or challenge old notions is a disservice to young women and men who deserve the same protection from unlawful sexual conduct as young victims of sexual molestation. Indeed, statutory rape victims share characteristics associated with victims of childhood sexual molestation and domestic violence, indicating further that these young people should not be ignored, but protected. For example:

  • Studies have found that two-thirds of teenage mothers reported being molested as children by an adult other than the father of the baby. Studies by Boyer and Fine (1992) of 535 teen mothers and by the Ounce of Prevention Fund (1986) of 445 teen mothers found that 55–60 percent of the teens reported childhood sexual abuse by family members or acquaintances. Although correlations between early molestation and later teen pregnancy have not been proved to date, studies have pointed to an enhanced vulnerability among this population to risk-taking behaviors, such as prostitution (Widom, 1996) and yielding to pressures by adults for nonconsensual sex (Butler and Burton, 1990).

  • Teenagers are as vulnerable as children to sexual exploitation due to their “sense of immortality,” mobility, naivete, lack of worldliness and “savvy necessary to stay[ing] safe,” and emotional neediness, all of which makes them easy targets for adults (NCMEC, The FrontLine, December 1997).

  • Like statutory rape relationships today, incidents of domestic violence used to be considered private, consensual acts between husband and wife, not to be interfered with. Like statutory rape victims, domestic violence victims are often unwilling to prosecute their abuser/spouse—this reluctance was often cited as a reason not to intervene.

  • Victimization has potentially devastating consequences for teenagers, including pregnancy and parenthood, as well as sexually transmitted diseases, emotional abuse, and emotional scars for a lifetime (for both female and male victims).

Finally, teenagers are just as deserving of protection from illegal sexual relationships as children and adults, even if they present themselves as sullen, uncooperative, sexually provocative, and difficult. After all, statutory rape is against the law.

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