Washington Statutory Rape Laws

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In Washington, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than 16), even if the sex is consensual. The state also forbids certain sexual contact and intercourse between minors who are more than a certain number of years apart in age. Those who break the law have committed statutory rape. For more information on statutory rape and the history of this crime, see 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 Washington and prosecuted as forcible rape (see Washington Sexual Battery Laws). Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery or child molestation or enticement laws (to learn more, see Aggravated Assault Laws in Washington and Child Enticement in Washington). And for information about rape between spouses, see Washington Marital Rape Laws.

Statutory Rape and Penalties

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Washington’s rape and child molestation laws. Penalties depend on the age of the parties and the type of sexual contact that occurred, as described below.

First degree rape of a child occurs when there is sexual intercourse (sexual penetration, however slight, with an object or body part) between a minor who is 11 or younger, and a defendant who is at least two years older than the minor. This offense is a class A felony, which incurs a fine of up to $50,000, up to life in prison, or both.

Second degree rape of a child occurs when there is sexual intercourse between a minor who is 12 or 13, and a defendant who is at least three years older than the minor. This offense is a also class A felony, which incurs a fine of up to $50,000, up to life in prison, or both.

Third degree rape of a child occurs when there is sexual intercourse between a minor who is 14 or 15, and a defendant who is at least four years older than the minor. This offense is a class C felony, which incurs a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both.

First degree child molestation occurs when there is sexual contact (sexual touching, even over clothing, without penetration) between a minor who is 11 or younger, and a defendant who is at least three years older than the minor. This offense is a class A felony, which incurs a fine of up to $50,000, up to life in prison, or both.

Second degree child molestation occurs when there is sexual contact between a minor who is 12 or 13, and a defendant who is at least three years older than the minor. This offense is a class B felony, which incurs a fine of up to $20,000, up to ten years in prison, or both.

Third degree child molestation occurs when there is sexual contact between a minor who is 14 or 15, and a defendant who is at least four years older than the minor. This offense is a class C felony, which incurs a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both.

(Wa. Code. § 9A.44.073, 9A.44.076, 9A.44.079, 9A.44.083, 9A.44.086, & 9A.44.089.)

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.” However, beyond these, few defenses exist for statutory rape.

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 in Washington, even a reasonable mistake as to the victim's age will not be a defense to a charge of statutory rape.

“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 Washington, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between a minor younger than 12 and another minor who is not more than two years older (three years older for sexual contact without penetration). It also includes a minor who is 12 or 13 and another minor who is not more than three years older (four years for sexual contact without penetration). And it also covers a minor who is 14 or 15 who has sex or sexual contact with someone who four or fewer years older than that minor.

Statutory rape marital exemption

Washington has a marital exemption for statutory rape, which allows consensual sex between a married 16 or 17 year old and the 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 14 year old willingly has sex with Tony, her 19 year old boyfriend, Tony can be charged with rape, since Jen is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place. (There are also “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions, discussed below, for parties who are close in age.)

But if Jen and Tony are married and living in Washington, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Washington 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.

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. There may be defenses that 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.

by: , Contributing Author

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