Statutory rape refers to sexual intercourse with a girl who has not reached an age to give consent to sexual intercourse. This kind of rape is a statutory crime in most jurisdictions. Sexual intercourse may or may not be with the consent of the girl. The age cutoff of the victim prescribed by the statute may vary with regard to different jurisdictions.
The federal statute which makes sexual abuse of a minor or ward a crime states that whoever knowingly engages or attempts to engage in a sexual act with a person who has attained the age of 12 years but has not attained the age of 16 years; and is at least four years younger than the person so engaging shall be fined or imprisoned for not more than 15 years, or both[i].
Statutory rape is a strict liability crime. The criminality of conduct depends upon a child’s being under the age stipulated by the statute. A person can not raise the defense of mistaken belief of the age of the child[ii].
Common-law rape and statutory rape are different crimes. The essential elements of both crimes are different. In statutory rape, age of the victim is an essential element whereas in common-law rape, force and consent are essential elements. But, the elements of force and consent may be present in a statutory rape even though they are not essential for a conviction.
A person may be found guilty for having sexual intercourse with a female between the ages of 13 and 18 without regard to the fact that she was married at the time of the act[iii]. It is due to the fact that a married minor prosecutrix could not consent to illicit sexual intercourse prohibited by statute[iv].
Legislation on statutory rape are made to protect children below a prescribed age from sexual intercourse. Children are prone to sexual exploitation due to their innocence and immaturity. They may not be aware of the consequences of engaging in sexual acts. Statutes make it a crime even if consent of a child is present in a statutory rape.
A defendant in a statutory rape case can not argue that the rape statute violates the equal protection clause because it subjects only males to criminal penalties[v]. A person may have a right to privacy and a right to engage in sexual activities with females but a rape statute does not violate such rights as it is intended to protect minor children from sexual exploitation.
[i] 18 USCS § 2243.
[ii] State v. Stokely, 842 S.W.2d 77 (Mo. 1992).
[iii] State v. Huntsman, 115 Utah 283 (Utah 1949).
[iv] People v. Caldwell, 255 Cal. App. 2d 229 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1967).
[v] Ferris v. Santa Clara County, 891 F.2d 715, 718 (9th Cir. Cal. 1989).