In Florida, as in all states, it's illegal for an adult to have sex with a minor even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed statutory rape. "Statutory rape" is a catch-all term to describe various types of unlawful sexual contact with a minor.
Statutory rape laws are based on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. Their incapacity to consent is written into the statute—which is why sex with a minor is called "statutory" rape.
Though statutory rape doesn't require that the prosecutor prove an assault, it's still considered rape. Of course, rape that does involve an assault is illegal in Florida. And other unlawful sexual acts can be charged under the state's assault and battery, child molestation, or child enticement laws. (For information about rape between spouses, see our article on marital rape laws.)
The age of consent in Florida is 18. So, an adult (someone 18 or older) who has sex with someone 17 or younger commits a crime. The seriousness of the crime depends on what kind of sexual contact occurred, how young the victim was, and how old the perpetrator was.
Below are some of Florida's crimes relating to sexual activity with someone underage, as well as the penalties that can result.
Unlawful sexual activity with certain minors. Florida has a crime called "unlawful sexual activity with certain minors," which includes sexual penetration of the mouth, anus, or genitalia (with an object or body part) between a minor who is 16 or 17 and an adult who is at least 24 years old. The offense is a felony of the second degree, and penalties include up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Lewd and lascivious molestation. This offense includes sexual touching (even over clothing) between a defendant and a minor under age 16. When the victim was younger than 12 and the defendant was 18 or older, the offense is a life felony and can result in 25 years to life in prison. The offense is a second-degree felony when the victim was 12 to 15 and the defendant was 18 or older, or the victim was under 12 and the defendant was 17 or younger. In those circumstances, a conviction can result in up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. And if the victim was between 12 to 15 years old and the defendant was under 18, the offense is a felony in the third degree, which carries up to five years in prison, a fine up to $5,000, or both.
Lewd and lascivious battery. The offense of lewd and lascivious battery includes sexual penetration between an adult and a minor who is 13, 14, or 15 years old. The offense is a felony of the second degree and carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, a fine of as much as $10,000, or both.
Lewd and lascivious conduct. This crime includes sexual touching between an adult and a minor younger than 16 years old (or an adult soliciting a minor younger than 16 to engage in sexual touching). For defendants 18 and older, the offense is a felony in the second degree. Penalties for a conviction include up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. When the defendant was younger than 18, the offense is a felony in the third degree. Potential penalties include up to five years in prison, fines of as much as $5,000, or both.
Contributing to the delinquency of a minor. This offense can be charged when a defendant who is 21 years old or older impregnates a minor under age 16 as a result of statutory rape. Penalties include up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 827.04 (2018).)
(Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 794.05, 794.0235, 800.04, 827.04 (2023).)
Named after Shakespeare's young lovers, "Romeo and Juliet" laws make an exception to statutory rape to protect teenagers who have consensual sex with others close to their own age.
In Florida, there's a limited Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex when the minor was 13 to 17 years old and the defendant was no more than four years older than the victim. If the defendant meets certain eligibility criteria, the exception removes the requirement that the defendant register as a sex offender (more on sex offender registration below). However, it doesn't prevent the defendant from being fined, incarcerated, or both. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 943.04354 (2023).)
Unlike rape charges involving adult victims, consent is not a defense to statutory rape. Statutory rape laws make minors legally incapable of giving consent to sexual activities. So, even if the minor "consented" to or even initiated the sexual activity, it's nonetheless illegal and the defendant could be convicted of statutory rape.
Defendants accused of statutory rape often argue 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 Florida, even a reasonable mistake as to the victim's age will not be a defense to a charge of statutory rape.
A defendant accused of statutory rape would still have the defenses that could apply in any criminal case, such as the offense never happened, someone else committed it, and so on.
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. Someone who falls under the "Romeo and Juliet" exception described above can ask the court to be exempt from this requirement. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 943.0435, 943.04354 (2023).)
If you're facing a statutory rape charge or any other criminal charges, you should consult 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 probation instead of prison time), and will know how prosecutors and judges in the area 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.