In Arkansas, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone 14 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 Arkansas and prosecuted as forcible rape. Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery laws and child enticement and abuse laws.
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Arkansas’s rape and sexual assault laws, and penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, as described below.
Statutory rape includes sexual intercourse, anal or oral sex, or penetration (however slight) between a minor who is 13 or younger and a defendant who is more than three years older than the minor. The offense is a Class Y felony, and a conviction can result in a minimum prison sentence of 25 years. (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-14-101, 5-14-103 (2018).)
Second degree sexual assault includes sexual touching between a minor who is 13 or younger and a defendant who 18 or older; or when the minor is 12 or 13 and the defendant is younger than 18 but five or more years older than the victim. It also includes sexual contact between a minor 11 or younger when the defendant is younger than 18, but four or more years older than the victim. Second degree sexual assault is a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-4-201, 5-4-401, 5-14-101, 5-14-125 (2018).)
Third degree sexual assault includes sexual intercourse, anal or oral sex, or penetration between a minor who is 13 or younger and a defendant who is younger than 18 and three or more years older than the child. Third degree sexual assault is a Class C felony and is punishable by six to 30 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-4-201, 5-4-401, 5-14-101, 5-14-126 (2018).)
Fourth degree sexual assault includes sexual intercourse, penetration, or touching (even through clothing) for sexual gratification between a 14- or 15-year-old minor and a defendant who is 20 or older. If penetration is involved, fourth degree sexual assault is a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, a fine of as much as $10,000, or both. If only touching is involved, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of $2,500, or both. (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-4-201, 5-4-401, 5-14-101, 5-14-127 (2018).)
It is also a crime in Arkansas for a person in a position of authority at a public or private school (such as a teacher, coach, or administrator) to engage in sexual conduct with a student younger than 21 years of age who is enrolled in the same school. (Ark. Code Ann. § 5-14-125 (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. (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 12-12-903, 12-12-906 (2018).)
Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, starting with “Someone else committed this crime” and arguing that the asserted conduct did not take place.
Arkansas has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows married people to have consensual sex even if their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. The marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption. (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-14-124, 5-14-125, 5-14-126, 5-14-127 (2018).)
Minors are legally incapable of giving consent to having sex; so for example, if Jen, a 13- 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.
But if Jen and Tony are married and living in Arkansas, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Arkansas has a marital exemption to the Arkansas 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 Arkansas, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between minors who are close in age; and even in certain cases when one party is a minor but the defendant is fewer than seven years older than the minor (discussed above).
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 Arkansas, even a reasonable mistake as to the victim's age will not be a defense to a charge of statutory rape.
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 18, 2018