In Georgia, anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 (the age of consent) can face charges for statutory rape, sodomy, or sexual battery. For these unlawful sexual offenses, it is immaterial whether the child consents to the activity. The child's age is what matters, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.
This article will review the various laws in Georgia that criminalize sexual activities with minors younger than the age of consent, along with Romeo-and-Juliet protections found in the law.
The age of consent in Georgia is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than the age of consent commits a crime. It doesn't matter if the minor consented to the sexual act. The point of the law is to protect young children whom society deems too young and immature to give informed consent.
Keep in mind that engaging in any sexual activity by force or without the other person's consent can result in more serious charges and penalties for rape, sexual battery, or aggravated sodomy, no matter what the age of the other person.
Georgia law contains several offenses related to sexual crimes involving children younger than 16. Below, we review the crimes of rape and statutory rape (sexual intercourse), sodomy (oral and anal sex), and sexual battery (sexual contact or sexual penetration by object).
Under Georgia law, a person commits statutory rape by having sexual intercourse with a child younger than 16 years old (the age of consent). Even the slightest penetration can constitute intercourse. A person can be convicted of statutory rape even if the child initiated, agreed to, and fully understood the nature and consequences of the sex act.
Statutory rape carries a felony penalty of one to 20 years in prison. Defendants who are 21 or older are subject to ten to 20 years in prison. If the defendant is 18 or younger and the victim is age 14 or 15, the statutory rape crime constitutes a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. (See description of Romeo-and-Juliet limited exemption described below.)
A man also commits the crime of rape by having sex with a girl younger than 10 years old. A conviction for this gender-specific rape offense carries 25 years to life in prison. Although Georgia's rape sentencing law also authorizes the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the death penalty for rapists.
Sodomy occurs when a person has oral or anal sex with a person younger than 16. A guilty defendant faces one to 20 years in prison. If the victim is 13 to 15 years old and the offender is 18 or younger and no more than four years older than the victim, the defendant is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. (See description of Romeo-and-Juliet limited exemption described below.)
A person commits aggravated sodomy when the child is younger than 10. Aggravated sodomy carries 25 years to life in prison.
A person in Georgia commits the crime of sexual battery by intentionally making physical contact with the intimate parts (genitals, buttocks, or a female's breasts) of a person younger than 16 for purposes of sexual arousal. Such an offense subjects a defendant to one to five years in prison.
The more severe crime of aggravated sexual battery happens when an offender penetrates the underage victim's genitals or anus with a foreign object (anything other than a penis) for purposes of sexual arousal. Aggravated sexual battery is punishable by 25 years to life imprisonment.
Similar to the above crimes, consent is generally not a defense when one party is younger than 16. However, the law provides a complete defense for consensual acts between certain teenagers who are close in age—this includes a defendant who is 18 or younger and not more than 48 months older than a 13- to 15-year-old victim. (See Romeo-and-Juliet defense described below.)
In many states, "Romeo and Juliet" exceptions—named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers—protect young people from harsh criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual conduct with others close to their own age.
Georgia recognizes two types of Romeo-and-Juliet exemptions:
Defendants charged with sex-related crimes of minors in Georgia have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.
Defendants charged with statutory rape or a similar crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."
It is a defense to a charge of statutory rape that the child and the defendant are married. This defense is part of Georgia's marital rape defense.
Consent is not a defense for most of the crimes discussed throughout this article.
Georgia, like many states, doesn't recognize a mistake-of-age defense for sex crimes involving underage victims, even if the defendant's belief was reasonable or the child lied about their age or looked older.
Georgia's Sex Offender Registration Law requires defendants convicted of dangerous sexual offenses to register as sex offenders for life. The law lists statutory rape, sodomy and aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery (as well as a second or subsequent non-aggravated sexual battery) as dangerous sexual offenses. Failure to comply with registration requirements results in an additional felony charge, carrying one to 30 years in prison. Second and subsequent offenses subject a defendant to five to 30 years in prison.
If you are facing a charge for statutory rape or a similar crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution's case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to the unique circumstances of your case. A knowledgeable attorney can also advise you on how the law will apply to your set of facts.
(Ga. Code §§ 16-6-1, -2, -3, -5.1, -22.1, -22.2; 17-10-3, -4; 42-1-12 (2022); Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008).)