In Kentucky, the crime of statutory rape is committed by engaging in sexual intercourse with a child under 16 years old (the age of consent). It is also illegal to engage in other sexual activity with a child under age 16 or for a person in a position of trust or authority over a child to engage in sexual contact with a 16 or 17-year-old. And as of July 2018, it is illegal for a 16 or 17-year-old to engage in sexual conduct with anyone who is ten or more years older. In Kentucky, the crime of statutory rape often falls under the state’s rape and sodomy laws.
For statutory rape, the child’s age is the determinative fact. It does not matter if the child agreed to or even initiated the conduct. People who commit sex acts against others without their consent can also be convicted of sexual battery or assault, no matter what the age of the victim. (For more information on these crimes, see Kentucky Sexual Battery Laws, Kentucky Assault Laws and Felony Assault in Kentucky.)
In Kentucky, rape is typically a felony and is categorized by degree of seriousness.
Rape in the first degree. Under Kentucky’s laws, a person of any age commits the crime of first degree rape by engaging in sexual intercourse (any sexual penetration, however slight) with a child under the age of 12. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 510.040 (2018).)
Rape in the second degree. A person who is 18 years old or older commits second degree rape by engaging in sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 14. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 510.050 (2018).) For example, a 19-year-old man who has sex with a 13-year old girl could be convicted of second degree rape.
Rape in the third degree. Finally, a person in Kentucky commits third degree rape by engaging in sexual intercourse when the other person is:
(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 510.060 (2018).)
For example, an adult coach who has sex with a 17-year-old student athlete could be convicted of third degree rape.
Kentucky’s laws against sodomy (oral and anal sex) and sexual abuse (sexual contact or fondling) are organized similarly to its laws against rape. Generally, the younger the victim and the older the defendant, the more severely the crime can be punished. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 510.070, 510.080, 510.090, 510.110, 510.120, 510.130 (2018).) For example, a man who has sexual intercourse with a boy could be convicted of sodomy.
Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as “Someone else committed this crime,” or “The alleged conduct did not occur.” But under Kentucky's laws, there are some other important potential defenses in statutory rape cases.
In most states, it is not a defense to statutory rape that the defendant thought the child was over the age of consent. However, in Kentucky, the defendant may raise as a defense to a charge of statutory rape (or a similar crime) against a child under the age of 16 (or 16 or 17, if the defendant was at least ten years older) that the defendant did not know that the child was underage. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 510.030 (2018).)
It is up to the finder of fact (the jury or the judge, if there is no jury) to decide whether to believe a defendant’s claim that he or she was unaware that the child was underage.
It is also a defense to statutory rape, sodomy, or sexual abuse that the defendant and the child are married at the time of the offense. This defense is part of the marital rape exemption. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 510.035 (2018).)
Named after Shakespeare’s young lovers, “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sex with other people close to their own age. Kentucky’s laws against second and third degree rape do not criminalize sexual activity with children over the age of 12 but under the age of 16 if the defendant is close in age to the child. For example, a 16-year-old who has sex with a 13-year-old could not be prosecuted for second degree rape and, in order to be convicted of third degree rape of a 14 or 15-year-old, the defendant must be 21 years old or older. Kentucky’s sodomy and sexual abuse laws function similarly. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 510.040, 510.050, 510.060, 510.070, 510.080, 510.090, 510.120, 510.130 (2018).)
However, any sexual contact with a child younger than 12 is a very serious crime in Kentucky. And, as of July 2018, intercourse and sodomy between a 16 or 17-year-old and a person who is at least ten years older are felonies under Kentucky law. A conviction for any of these offenses can result in significant prison time, large fines, or both (see below for more on potential punishments).
In most cases, statutory rape is a felony in Kentucky. Rape and sodomy of a child under the age of 12 are Class A felonies, punishable by 20 to 50 years’ or life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
Rape and sodomy of a child under age 14 are Class C felonies, punishable by five to ten years’ imprisonment and as much as $10,000 in fines.
Rape and sodomy in the third degree are Class D felonies, punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12 is a Class C felony, punishable by five to ten years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Otherwise, misdemeanor sexual abuse is punishable by anywhere from 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $250, while felony sexual abuse is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 510.040, 510.050, 510.060, 510.070, 510.080, 510.090, 510.110, 510.120, 510.130, 532.060, 532.090, 534.030, 534.040 (2018).)
People who are convicted of sex crimes against minors are required to register as sex offenders in Kentucky unless the defendant is under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 17.500, 17.510 (2018).)
A conviction for statutory rape or a similar crime can have very serious consequences, including time in prison or jail and sex offender registration. If you are charged with a crime as a result of sexual activity with a person under the age of consent, you should talk to a Kentucky criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court, based on the law and the facts of your case, and help you prepare the strongest possible defense.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.
Updated August 8, 2018