In Alaska, 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. 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 Alaska and prosecuted as forcible rape. Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery or child enticement or molestation laws.
In Alaska, statutory rape is prosecuted under the state’s sexual abuse laws, and is broken into several categories based on the age of the parties and the type of sexual contact that occurred, as described below.
Sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree includes sexual penetration where the defendant was 16 or older and the victim was 12 or younger. This offense is an unclassified felony.
Sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree is a class B felony, and involves:
Sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree is a class C felony, and includes sexual contact between a defendant who is 17 or older and a victim who is 13, 14, or 15 years old (and at least four years younger than the defendant).
Sexual abuse of a minor in the fourth degree is a class A misdemeanor, and occurs when there is sexual contact (without penetration) between a minor who is 12 or younger and a defendant who is younger than 16 years old and three or more years older than the minor.
Penalties may include fines, prison time, or both, and are determined based on Alaska’s sentencing guidelines.
(Alaska Stat. Ann. §§ 11.41.434, 11.41.436, 11.41.438, 11.41.440, 12.55.035, 12.55.125 (2018).)
State law requires that, in addition to the applicable fines and prison time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) must register as sex offenders. (Alaska Stat. Ann. §§ 12.63.010, 12.63.100 (2018).)
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.” One or more of the following defenses may also apply.
Alaska 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. The marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption. (Alaska Stat. Ann. § 11.41.442 (2018).)
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 Alaska 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.
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 Alaska, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between minors who are less than four years apart in age when both minors are at least 13 years old. This exception also covers consensual sexual contact between a minor 12 or younger and another minor who is younger than 16 and less than three years older than the younger minor. (Alaska Stat. Ann. §§ 11.41.434, 11.41.436, 11.41.438, 11.41.440 (2018).)
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. Unlike most states, Alaska recognizes mistake of age as a defense if the defendant reasonably believed the victim to be 16 years old or older and took reasonable action to verify that the victim was that age or older. (Alaska Stat. Ann. § 11.41.442 (2018).)
If you are facing a statutory rape charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. The law can change at any time, 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.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.
Updated September 21, 2018