Statutory rape laws are meant to protect our Nation's young people. When these laws are broken, victimized young people should feel confident that our legal system will punish the offenders. If the laws are inadequate or poorly enforced, we must provide improved or new laws and a legal system that enforces them. A recent American Bar Association (ABA) Center on Children and the Law study, funded by the Office for Victims of Crime, reported many problems associated with almost every aspect of the service and legal systems' responses to the crime of statutory rape and described how these problems result in disservice to victims. To help solve these problems, OVC has published this Victim-Oriented Multidisciplinary Responses to Statutory Rape Training Guide.
For the study, ABA staff interviewed prosecutors, victim advocates, police, and judges to determine how statutory rape cases, victims, and offenders were treated by care providers and legal professionals. Problems associated with statutory rape cases involve the victim, the offender, prosecutors, service providers, police, judges, any resultant offspring, and all the psychological, emotional, and financial consequences for the teen and the offender. Recognizing the complexities of statutory rape cases, this Training Guide offers ideas and suggestions to remedy the currently inadequate societal and legal responses to statutory rape and its victims. The Training Guide seeks to improve the responses of care providers and the criminal justice system to young victims and to hold responsible the adult offenders. This document contains practical suggestions to increase reporting of this crime, improve investigations and prosecutions, improve treatment of victims and offenders, and develop sound sentencing practices to guide judges. The effective management of this complex crime demands the use of a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach that includes all involved organizations and agencies, particularly victim advocates, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, judges, mental health providers, health care and service providers, school officials, and other teen program professionals. The ABA study indicated that when those involved work together, problems are solved and promising approaches for positive change come to light.
Historically, statutory rape victims have been underserved by the criminal justice system. In the past, outdated attitudes and prosecutorial difficulties were used as an excuse not to prosecute statutory rape cases. Lukewarm responses to allegations of sexual misconduct between adults and teenagers are often blamed on two factors that discourage police and prosecutors from pursuing a case despite existing State laws making sexual contact with 12- to 16-year-olds illegalthe victims believe they have consented to the sexual relationship and teenage witnesses lack credibility with jurors. OVC emphasizes that statutory rape is against the law; it is a crime that creates a victim who needs help. It is up to us to enforce the law and protect and help victims.
Interestingly, the ABA study observed that statutory rape victims share characteristics common among victims of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence. This finding further indicates that these young people should be protected, not ignored. As victim advocates, we must keep in mind that although these victims often do not see themselves as victims, they need protection from illegal sexual relationships.
Kathryn M. Turman