It is illegal to engage in sexual activity with minors (people younger than 18). Does this mean that sexually active teenagers can be arrested, or forced to register as sex offenders? The answer is: Sometimes, yes.
Many state laws on child sexual abuse specify age ranges beyond which sexual activity constitutes a crime. For example, many states have made it a crime to have sex with someone who is younger than 18 and more than four years younger than the defendant.
For example, two teenagers—Tom, 15, and Jennifer, 17—may get in trouble with their parents for their sexual relationship, but not with the lawdescribed above. This is because Jennifer and Tom are only two years apart. Under the law, their sexual activities would be legal.
If, however, Jennifer engages in sexual activity with someone more than four years her junior, Jennifer could face prosecution even though she herself is a minor. In this scenario, the younger child is considered the victim, and the older child the perpetrator of sexual abuse.
The penalties for violating child sexual abuse laws are serious. If you have any questions about your state’s laws, or if you are facing charges for a child enticement (or related) violation, consult a qualified criminal defense lawyer.