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Statutory rape: Defending yourself against the odds

It's no secret that a single lie can ruin a life when it comes to statutory rape. It's very easy for a younger person to lie and say that he or she is older than he or she is, especially when that person looks the part.

Forcibly raping a person is not acceptable and should be illegal, but statutory rape is different and falls into a somewhat-grey area. With statutory rape, it is illegal to have sexual intercourse with someone under the age of consent due to his or her inability to consent. The idea is that young men and women who are under a certain age don't understand the full impact of sexual relationships and cannot consent to having them. The age of consent is usually 16 to 18, and those under the age of consent may not be able to consent to sex with an adult under any circumstances.

There are some circumstances where a person under the age of consent can legally consent to sex depending on the age of the partner, which is the single exception to the rule. The laws that allow this, referred to as Romeo and Juliet laws, typically state that if the age difference is between two and four years, then statutory rape has not occurred. For example, a 15-year-old boy could legally choose to have a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girlfriend despite not being over the age of consent.

What's clear about these laws is that they can disproportionately penalize the older party. For example, there have been stories about young men and women who were having sexual relationships when they found out that the younger person had lied about his or her age. If that younger person is under the age of consent, then the person over the age of consent is now considered to have violated the law. The older person would be arrested, and the younger person faces no penalties. The person who slept with the younger party could be placed on a sex offender registry due to that person's lies.

Mistake of age is a solid defense to statutory rape in some cases, but it is not a difference in all states. Some states have a strict liability clause, which means that if you have had a sexual relationship with someone under the age of consent, you're the one who will pay the price. Your Dallas attorney can still help you argue your case, which you can help with by providing evidence of the other person's lies in the form of past conversations online, photos of false IDs, information on where you met the individual and by showing age information in emails or on paper.

Source: The Crime Report, "Statutory Rape: When a Lie Can Ruin a Life," Robin Barton, accessed Oct. 21, 2016

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