Massachusetts Statutory Rape Laws

Statutes governing Massachusetts' age of consent, associated criminal charges, available defenses, and penalties for conviction.

By , MSLIS · Long Island University
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated September 20, 2023

People in Massachusetts who engage in sexual activity with a child under the age of consent may be convicted of rape and abuse of a child—commonly known as statutory rape—or other age-based sex crimes.

What Is the Age of Consent in Massachusetts?

The age of consent in Massachusetts is 16. Having consensual sexual intercourse with a minor younger than 16 is considered rape and abuse of a child. Statutory rape laws presume that children younger than a certain age are not mature enough to give informed consent to sexual relations. Their legal incapacity is written into statute—hence the term "statutory rape."

Massachusetts' Statutory Rape Laws

Massachusetts law doesn't use the term "statutory rape." Rather, this age-based crime is called "rape and abuse of a child." Related statutory sex offenses include "indecent assault and battery on a child younger than 14" and "unnatural and lascivious acts with a child younger than 16." These offenses involve different types of sexual acts.

Rape and abuse of a child pertains to acts of sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse, which includes oral and anal sex or any intrusion or penetration of a genital or anal opening.

Indecent assault and battery involves harmful or offensive touching of a child in a sexually indecent manner, such as fondling or touching the private parts of a child.

Unnatural and lascivious acts generally include oral sex with no penetration.

A person can commit these crimes even if they don't know the age of their sexual partner. These are strict liability crimes that don't require illegal intent on the part of the defendant. Even if the underage person consents to or initiates the sexual activity, the defendant can still be convicted.

Penalties for Statutory Rape (Rape and Abuse of a Child) in Massachusetts

Massachusetts law carries harsh penalties for statutory rape crimes.

Rape and Abuse of a Child

A person who has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse with a child younger than 16 faces a sentence for life or any term of years.

Aggravated Rape and Abuse of a Child

Rape and abuse of a child is punished more severely if:

  • the child is younger than 12 and the defendant is at least 5 years older
  • the child is between the ages of 12 and 16 and the defendant is at least 10 years older, or
  • the defendant is a mandated child abuse reporter (such as a doctor, teacher, social worker, or clergy member).

Aggravated rape and abuse of a child carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and no possibility of probation or parole during that time.

Enhanced Penalty for Prior Convictions of Child Abuse Crimes

The mandatory minimum prison sentence increases to 15 years if the defendant has certain prior convictions, including rape and abuse of a child, rape of a child with force, indecent assault and battery on a child, or assault of a child with intent to commit rape.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, § 21; ch. 265, §§ 23, 23A, 23B (2023).)

Penalties for Indecent Assault and Battery of a Child Under 14 in Massachusetts

Under Massachusetts's law, a person who touches a child younger than 14 on a part of the body that is commonly considered private commits the crime of indecent assault and battery. For example, a person who fondles a 13-year-old's breasts or buttocks could be convicted of indecent assault. Consent is not a defense. A conviction means up to 2 ½ years of jail time or 10 years of prison time.

Indecent assault of a child is punished more severely if the defendant was a mandated child abuse reporter or was attempting to commit another crime at the same time. This aggravated offense carries a sentence of 10 years to life. Similar to rape and abuse of a child, a defendant with related prior convictions will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13B, 13B½, 13B¾ (2023).)

Penalties for Unnatural and Lascivious Acts With a Child Under 16 in Massachusetts

Committing unnatural or lascivious acts with a child younger than 16 carries penalties of up to 2 ½ years in jail or up to 5 years in prison. An adult defendant convicted of this offense a subsequent time faces a mandatory minimum 5-year prison sentence.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 35A (2023).)

Does Massachusetts Have a "Romeo and Juliet" Law?

No, it does not. Many states have "Romeo and Juliet" exceptions (named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers) which protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual activity with others who are close to their own age. Massachusetts, however, has no such Romeo and Juliet exception. Underage children in Massachusetts can face charges for having sex with their peers, and adults who have sex with underage children can be charged with aggravated child rape.

Is Mistake of Age a Defense to Statutory Rape in Massachusetts?

No. In Massachusetts, as in most states, a defendant's mistake as to the age of the victim is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape, even if that mistake is reasonable. For example, even if the child claims to be 17 years old and has a driver's license that gives the child's age as 17, this is not a defense if it turns out that the child is actually only 15 years old.

(Commonwealth v. Miller, 432 N.E.2d 463 (Mass. 1982).)

Do Statutory Rape Convictions Require Sex Offender Registration in Massachusetts?

Yes. People in Massachusetts who are convicted of any of the above crimes must register as sex offenders. Sex offender requirements generally last 20 years. Failure to register or provide timely updates is a crime that carries up to 5 years of prison time, along with the possibility of lifetime community parole supervision.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, §§ 178C and following (2023).)

Getting Legal Help

If you are charged with a crime as a result of engaging in consensual sex with a person who is underage, contact a local criminal defense attorney immediately. A conviction for a sex crime against a child can result in serious and lasting consequences.

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