Question: I’m an 18-year-old female teaching assistant at a college in Portland, Oregon, and I started dating a student in one of my classes last semester (I was 17 at the time). He’s very mature and started college early. He’ll turn 16 next month. Another TA told me that I could be arrested for statutory rape! Is that possible? Can a woman be found guilty of raping a consenting young man?
Answer: Short answer—yes. In Oregon, having sex with anyone under the age of 16 is statutory rape. But, Oregon law does have a “Romeo and Juliet” defense you can try to raise if you are prosecuted.
This article discusses statutory rape laws as they apply to adult women and underage males. For more information about statutory rape in general, see Statutory Rape Laws, Charges, and Penalties.
An adult (someone over the legal age of consent) who has sex with someone under the legal age of consent (16 in Oregon) commits statutory rape, even where the underage person willingly participates. (Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 163.355.) This is generally the law in all 50 states, although the legal age of consent varies from state to state. And, statutory rape is often classified as a felony, as it is in Oregon.
In early 2013, a 37-year-old Florida woman, Alexis Colson, was arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old boy. In 2005, a 28-year-old Tennessee teacher, Pamela Rogers Turner, plead guilty to four counts of sexual battery on a teenage boy with whom she had a three-month sexual relationship. Tennessee also revoked Turner’s teaching certificate and ordered her to register as a sex offender. Nevertheless, Turner was re-arrested during probation for sending texts and nude photos to the victim. And, most notoriously of all, middle school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau served two terms in prison for her sexual relationship with a student that started when he was 12. Letourneau continued contacting the boy and gave birth to a daughter by him during probation. Letourneau and her former student (now an adult) are married with two children.
Such cases sometimes have other bizarre consequences. For example, a woman who contends she was raped by an underage male may find herself charged with statutory rape in rare circumstances. And, underage male victims may also (although infrequently) face legal repercussions.
Male Statutory Rape Victim Required To Pay Child Support
A California court required a 15-year-old male victim of statutory rape by a 34-year-old woman to pay child support for an infant conceived during their sexual relationship. The underage male testified that he had discussed an on-going relationship with the woman and that the sex with her was “mutually agreeable.”
(County of San Luis Obispo v. Nathaniel J., 50 Cal.App.4th 842 (1996).)
If you are charged with statutory rape, Oregon law does provide you with a defense.
In your case, the fact that you and the underage male were close in age (within three years) places you in a position to take advantage of Oregon’s Romeo and Juliet law if you are charged with statutory rape. Romeo and Juliet laws, which have been enacted in several (though not all) states, provide a defense to a person charged with statutory rape who is less than a specified number of years older than the victim. In Oregon, that defense is available to a person charged with statutory rape who is less than three years older than the victim at the time of the sexual contact. (Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 163.345.)
You mentioned that your boyfriend is very “mature” for his age. Some statutory rape defendants contend that they mistakenly believed that their victims were over the legal age of consent because of appearance or other indications of maturity. However, Oregon (like many states) does not allow a statutory rape defendant to offer evidence of a mistaken belief as to the victim’s age as a defense, even it if was a reasonable, good-faith mistake. Mistake as to the victim’s age is no defense in Oregon and many other states. (Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 163.325.)
For more information about the mistake of age defense to statutory rape, see My partner lied about their age, can I be convicted of statutory rape?
Many states require a person convicted of felony statutory rape to register as a sex offender. Sex offender status limits where the person may live, work, go to school, and even just hang out. Sex offender registries are public record and may be accessed by employers, landlords, neighbors, and any other interested member of the public.
For more information about sex offender registration laws, see State Sex Offender Registration Laws.
While it appears that Oregon’s Romeo and Juliet law may offer you a defense if you are charged with statutory rape, such defenses are by no means easy to establish. Talk to a lawyer experienced in criminal defense law in your state. A conviction of statutory rape or any sexual offense can lead to prison, fines, and even registration as a sex offender that can follow you for many years.