Age of consent
Age of consent is a term referring to the age at which a person becomes competent to consent to sexual acts with an adult. In the vast majority of jurisdictions this is set at 18, but ages as low as 16 and as high as 21 also exist rarely. There are also sometimes exemptions from this law allowing children below the age of consent to have to sex with other people below a certain age, but not above that age, known informally as "Romeo and Juliet" laws.
England's statutory rape laws, first enacted in 1275, originally protected females under the age of 12. In 1576, during the reign of Elizabeth I, the protected class was reduced to females under the age of ten. In the United States, many states had ages of consent as low as 10 or 12 until the late 19th century. The statutory rape victim's being unchaste, promiscuous, or not a virgin was codified as a defense in every state, since the goal of the law was to protect premarital chastity. These laws were reformed and made gender-neutral in the 1970s.
U.S. Federal law currently defines a "minor" as a person under the age of 18 and criminalizes exploitation of minors and pornography involving minors. 18 U.S. Code § 2243 criminalizes sexual acts with persons under the age of 16 who are at least four years younger than the defendant. 18 U.S. Code § 2241 criminalizes sexual acts, or crossing a state line with the intent to commit sexual acts, with a person under the age of 12 as "aggravated sexual abuse" without regard to the age of the defendant.
Age of consent in law
In law the age of consent is the age at which a person is deemed to be competent to give consent to an activity, such as sexual intercourse or medical treatment, which would be otherwise be unlawful without informed consent.
The age of consent is one of several legal principles that govern the rights and responsibilities of minors in common law systems, such as:
- The age of license is the minimum age that a person must obtain to be permitted to undertake an activity, such as driving a motor vehicle on public roads.
- The age of criminal responsibility is the age at which a person is deemed to be fully responsible for their criminal actions.
- The age of majority is the age at which a person is deemed to have the rights and responsibilities of an adult and the age at which parental rights and responsibilities cease.
American States/Territories and their Corresponding Age of Consent
Some states have "close in age exemptions" which allow those under the age of consent to engage in sexual activity with teenagers close to their age (if the age difference between the partners is small, for example 3 or 4 years or if the older partner is younger than a specified age, usually 18 or 21).