In North Carolina, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone 16 or younger), even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed statutory rape.
Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. Their incapacity is written into the statute—hence the term, “statutory” rape. The age of consent can vary among states, and some states differentiate between consensual sex between minors who are close in age (for example, two teenagers of the same age), as opposed to sex between a minor and a much older adult.
Though statutory rape does not require that the prosecutor prove an assault, it is still rape. Of course, rape that does involve force or an assault is illegal in North Carolina and prosecuted as forcible rape (see North Carolina Sexual Battery Laws). Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery laws (to learn more, see Aggravated Assault Laws in North Carolina) and child enticement and abuse laws.
Statutory Rape and Penalties
Statutory rape is prosecuted under North Carolina’s rape and sex crime laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, and the conduct that occurred, as described below.
First degree rape includes vaginal intercourse between a minor who is 12 or younger, and a defendant who is 12 or older and at least four years older than the victim.
First degree sexual offense includes oral or anal intercourse, or penetration with an object or body part other than the penis, between a minor who is 12 or younger, and a defendant who is 12 or older and at least four years older than the victim.
Statutory rape of a person who is 13, 14, or 15 includes vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse between a minor who is 13, 14, or 15 and a defendant who is at least four years older than the victim.
Indecent liberties between children includes sexual behavior between minors for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire, when the defendant is younger than 16 but five or more years older than the victim.
Taking indecent liberties with children includes sexual behavior between minors for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire, when the defendant is younger than 16 but three or more years older than the victim.
(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.2, 14-27.4, 14-27.7A, 14-202.2, & 14-202.1.)
North Carolina has a structured sentencing system, so penalties for the offenses listed above vary according to the defendant’s criminal history. Penalties may include fines, jail (or prison) time, or both.
Sex Offender Registration
State law requires, in addition to the applicable fines and prison time, that people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including certain instances of statutory rape) must register as sex offenders.
Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge
Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as “Someone else committed this crime, ” or “The alleged conduct did not occur.”
Statutory rape marital exception
North Carolina has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor and that minor’s adult spouse, even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married.
Minors are legally incapable of giving consent to having sex; so for example, if Jen, a 15 year old willingly has sex with Tony, her 23 year old boyfriend, Tony can be charged with rape, since Jen is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place.
But if Jen and Tony are married and living in Alaska, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because North Carolina has a marital exemption to the state’s statutory rape laws.
However, if Tony were to rape Jen (force her to have sex against her will), he would have no protection under the law even if the two are married.
“Romeo and Juliet” exception
Named after Shakespeare’s young lovers, “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions are intended to prevent serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their own age.
In North Carolina, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between a minor of any age and someone who is no more than four years older than the minor.
Mistake of age
Defendants accused of statutory rape often claim that they had no reason to know that their partner was underage. They may argue that the victim herself represented that she was older than she was, and that a reasonable person would have believed her. But as in most states, in North Carolina even a reasonable mistake of age is not a defense to statutory rape.
See a Lawyer
If you are facing a statutory rape charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. Numerous defenses may apply to statutory rape charges, and a lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case.
A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or a reduction in penalties (such as, for example, probation instead of prison time); and will know how prosecutors and judges typically handle cases like yours.
Help for Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.