In Florida, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than 18), 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 an assault is illegal in Florida. Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery or child molestation or child enticement laws. (For information about rape between spouses, see our article on marital rape laws.)
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Florida’s sexual battery and lewd and lascivious conduct laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim. The offense is broken into categories, and penalties vary depending on the circumstances of the crime, as described below.
Unlawful sexual activity with certain minors includes sexual penetration (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 a fine of up to $10,000, as many as 15 years in prison, or both. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 794.05 (2018).)
Lewd and lascivious molestation includes sexual touching (even over clothing) between a defendant and a minor under age 16. This offense is a life felony if the victim was younger than 12 and the defendant was 18 or older. Penalties include at least 25 years (and up to life) in prison.
If the victim was 12, 13, 14, or 15 and the defendant was 18 or older; or the victim was younger than 12 and the defendant was 17 or younger, the offense is a felony of the second degree. A conviction can result in up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
If the victim was younger than 12, 13, 14, or 15 and the defendant was 17 or younger, the offense is a felony in the third degree. Potential penalties include at up to five years in prison, a fine of as much as $5,000, or both.
(Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 800.04 (2018).)
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. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 800.04 (2018).)
Lewd and lascivious conduct 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 years old at the time of the crime, 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. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 800.04 (2018).)
Contributing to the delinquency of a minor may be charged when a defendant who is 21 years old or older impregnates a minor under age 16 as a result of a 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).)
State law requires, in addition to the applicable fines and prison time, that people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) must register as sex offenders. You may petition the court to be exempted from this requirement if you fall under the “Romeo and Juliet” exception, described below. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 943.0435, 943.04354 (2018).)
Unlike normal rape charges, consent is not a defense to statutory rape. Statutory rape laws make minors legally incapable of giving consent to sexual activities. Therefore even if the minor “consented,” the sexual activity was nonetheless illegal and the defendant may be convicted of rape.
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 Florida, there is 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 requirements, the exception removes the requirement that the defendant register as a sex offender. However, it does not prevent him from being fined, imprisoned, or both. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 943.04354 (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. But in Florida, 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 6, 2018