Massachusetts Statutory Rape Laws
Statutes governing Massachusetts's age of consent, associated criminal charges, available defenses, and penalties for conviction.
People in Massachusetts who engage in sexual activity with people under the age of consent (16 years old) may be convicted of child rape (sometimes called statutory rape).
For more information on statutory rape, see Statutory Rape Laws, Charges, and Punishments.
Rape of a Child
In many states, the crime of statutory rape (consensual intercourse between a teenager and an older person) is distinct from child rape (intercourse with a younger child, which is never considered consensual). However, in Massachusetts, both crimes are termed child rape and can carry stiff penalties. The determinative fact is the age of the victim. Even if the underage person consents to or initiates the sexual activity, the defendant can still be convicted.
In Massachusetts, a person who has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse (usually, this refers to oral or anal sex) with a child under the age of 16 commits the crime of rape of a child.
Rape of a child is punished more severely if:
- the child is under the age of 12 and the defendant is at least five years older
- the child is between the ages of 12 and 16 and the defendant is at least ten years older, or
- the defendant is a mandated child abuse reporter (such as a doctor, teacher, social worker, or clergy member).
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, § 21, ch. 265, §§ 23, 23A.)
Of course, people who commit sex acts against others without their consent can also be convicted of sexual assault or assault and battery.
For more information on these crimes, see Massachusetts Sexual Battery Laws, Massachusetts Assault and Battery Laws, Massachusetts Aggravated Assault Laws, and Assault With a Dangerous Weapon in Massachusetts.
Other Sexual Conduct
Under Massachusetts’s law, a person who touches a child under the age of 14 on a part of the child’s body that is commonly considered private commits the crime of indecent assault and battery. Indecent assault of a child is punished more severely if the defendant is a mandated child abuse reporter.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13B, 13B1/2.)
For example, a person who fondled a 13-year-old could be convicted of indecent sexual assault. However, fondling a 15-year old would not result in criminal charges so long as the child consented to the act.
In Massachusetts, a person who urges or invites a child to engage in illicit sexual conduct may be convicted of child enticement. A person can be convicted of child enticement even if nothing sexual ever occurs between the defendant and the child.
For more information on this crime, see Child Enticement Laws in Massachusetts.
There are important defenses to consider in any statutory rape case.
The defendant’s age. Many states have “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions, named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers, that protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual activity with other who are close to their own age. While underage children in Massachusetts can face charges for sex with their peers, only adults can be charged with aggravated child rape.
Marriage. In many states, it is a defense to a charge of statutory rape that the defendant and the child are married. However, there is no marital defense to statutory rape in Massachusetts.
For more information, see Massachusetts Marital Rape Statutes.
Mistake as to the child’s age. In Massachusetts, as in most states, a defendant’s mistake as to the age of the victim is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape, even if that mistake is reasonable. For example, even if the child claims to 17 years old and has a driver’s license that gives the child’s age as 17, this is not a defense if it turns out that the child is actually only 15 years old. (Commonwealth v. Miller, 432 N.E.2d 463 (Mass. 1982).)
Judges in Massachusetts have broad discretion in fixing punishment for people convicted of crimes. While each criminal statute has a maximum possible sentence, judges are free to impose a shorter sentence.
Rape of a child is punishable by any amount of time in jail or prison and up to life imprisonment.
Aggravated rape of a child and indecent assault by a mandated reporter are punishable by a minimum term of ten years.
Indecent assault and battery against a child under the age of 14 is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail or up to ten years in prison.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13B, 13B1/2, 23, 23A.)
Sex Offender Registration
People in Massachusetts who are convicted of child rape or indecent assault are required to register as sex offenders. Registered sex offenders must periodically provide personal information to local police officers and this personal information (including the offender’s name, address, and photograph) may then be made available to the public.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, § 178C.)
Obtaining Legal Advice and Counsel
If you are charged with a crime as a result of engaging in consensual sex with a person who is underage, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney immediately. A conviction for a sex crime against a child can result in serious and lasting consequences. The best way to avoid a conviction is to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court based on the law, the facts of your case, and the local judge and prosecutor. With an attorney’s help, you can protect your rights and defend yourself.