Statutory Rape and Age of Consent: Have We Criminalized All Teen Relationships?

“The Age of Consent” is the age at which State Law recognizes a person’s right to decide whether or not to engage in sexual activity with other of age, consenting individuals. The age of consent is typically depicted in movies and TV shows as 18 years old, meaning one must be at least 18 to “legally” engage in consensual sexual activity. There is a popular belief that any sexual activity performed or received by a person under the age of 18 is “statutory rape.” Plenty young men and women have experienced the horror of becoming a registered sex offender as the result of law enforcement intervention in the consensual relationships of young adults. There are many common misconceptions about the age of consent and statutory rape; we will explore the laws in their current version as they apply to the people of Ohio.

First, a few definitions:

Sexual Conduct: “Sexual conduct” means vaginal intercourse between a male and female; anal intercourse, fellatio, and cunnilingus between persons regardless of sex; and, without privilege to do so, the insertion, however slight, of any part of the body or any instrument, apparatus, or other object into the vaginal or anal opening of another. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete vaginal or anal intercourse.

Sexual Contact: “Sexual contact” means any touching of an erogenous zone of another, including without limitation the thigh, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if the person is a female, a breast, for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying either person.

Sexual Activity: “Sexual activity” means sexual conduct or sexual contact, or both.

Consent: Consent as explained by this quick cartoon video.

First, although the popular belief is that the “age of consent” is 18 years old, in actuality and by law in Ohio the age of consent is 16 years of age. This means that by law, young adults under the age of 16 cannot consent to sexual activity, with any person, of any age. The people of Ohio, through their representatives in the Ohio Legislature, have decided that young adults under the age of 16 lack the emotional maturity and social foresight to voluntarily engage in sexual activity and therefore, young adults under the age of 16, and adolescents and children under the age of 13, should receive special protection under Ohio law.

This means that under all circumstances, children and adolescents under the age of 13 are not legally able to consent to sex. Even if they say “yes,” this expression cannot be consent because does not count because the State feels they are too young to truly understand what they are consenting to.

Ohio law does provide some relief for adolescents (individuals who are 10-15 years old) who engage in sexual activity with someone younger than themselves – under very limited circumstances. For example, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2907.02(A)(1)(b), any sexual conduct with someone under the age of 13 qualifies as Rape, a felony of the first degree, punishable by a prison term of a minimum of three years and a maximum of life without parole. However, Ohio Revised Code 2907.02(B) provides a rare factual exception to the harsh penalties of a first-degree felony offense, specifically:

If an offender is convicted of or pleads guilty to a violation of division (A)(1)(b) of this section, if the offender was less than sixteen years of age at the time the offender committed the violation of that division, and if the offender during or immediately after the commission of the offense did not cause serious physical harm to the victimthe victim was ten years of age or older at the time of the commission of the violation, and the offender has not previously been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a violation of this section or a substantially similar existing or former law of this state, another state, or the United States, the court shall not sentence the offender to a prison term or term of life imprisonment pursuant to section 2971.03 of the Revised Code, and instead the court shall sentence the offender as otherwise provided in this division.

(emphasis added).

In other words, if the offender was a juvenile of 15 years old or younger, and the victim was over the age of 10 but under the age of 13, that juvenile offender would receive a punishment, but not a prison term or life in prison. Ohio law gives young people some autonomy over their individual choices regarding sexual activity – under very specific circumstances. For example, Ohio Revised Code 2907.04 defines Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor (also known as “statutory rape”) as:

No person who is eighteen years of age or older shall engage in sexual conduct with another, who is not the spouse of the offender, when the offender knows the other person is thirteen years of age or older but less than sixteen years of age, or the offender is reckless in that regard.

In other words, no person 18 years old or older may legally engage in sexual conduct with a person under the age of 16. However, young adults aged 16 and 17 may freely engage in consensual sexual activity with other individuals of their age, 16 and 17 years old, and with an adult over the age of 18, so long as that activity is consensual.

Should a young adult under the age of 16 but over the age of 13 engage in sexual activity with an adult over the age of 18, and the age gap between the minor and the adult is four years or less, the adult could be charged with a misdemeanor of the first degree. R.C. 2907.04(B)(2).

If there is an age gap of greater than four years but less than ten years between the minor and the adult, the adult could face a felony of the fourth degree. R.C. 2907.04(B)(1). If the age gap between the minor and the adult is ten years or more (so, 14-year-old and 25-year-old for example), the adult could face a felony of the third degree. If the adult has previously been convicted of Rape, Sexual Battery, or Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor, the adult faces an enhanced penalty of a second-degree felony.

Additionally, regardless of the level of the offense, any individual charged and convicted of Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor will become a registered sex offender and will need to comply with all registration requirements.

Of course, the age of consent and “statutory rape” apply to situations where all parties agree that the sexual activity that occurred was consensual. Sexual activity without consent is another area for another post.

Laws governing consensual sexual activity are complex and suffer from an incorrect public perception defined by popular culture. It is important to be as informed as possible about the law so you and your loved ones – especially teenagers and young adults – do not accidentally commit a crime. If you or someone you love gets caught up in an age of consent problem, contact The Law Office of Brian Jones, LLC – we are experienced in these types of cases and we understand the confusion that surrounds the issues. Sex can last a few minutes, but sex offender registration can last for life. Don’t let age of consent issues ruin your life. Call us if you need us!