People in Massachusetts who engage in sexual activity with people under the age of consent (16 years old) may be convicted of child rape (sometimes called statutory rape).
In many states, the crime of statutory rape (consensual intercourse between a teenager and an older person) is distinct from child rape (intercourse with a younger child, which is never considered consensual). However, in Massachusetts, both crimes are termed child rape and can carry stiff penalties. The determinative fact is the age of the victim. Even if the underage person consents to or initiates the sexual activity, the defendant can still be convicted.
In Massachusetts, a person who has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse (usually, this refers to oral or anal sex) with a child under the age of 16 commits the crime of rape of a child.
Rape of a child is punished more severely if:
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, § 21; ch. 265, §§ 23, 23A (2018).)
Under Massachusetts’s law, a person who touches a child under the age of 14 on a part of the child’s body that is commonly considered private commits the crime of indecent assault and battery. Indecent assault of a child is punished more severely if the defendant is a mandated child abuse reporter. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13B, 13B1/2 (2018).)
For example, a person who fondled a 13-year-old could be convicted of indecent sexual assault.
In Massachusetts, a person who urges or invites a child to engage in illicit sexual conduct may be convicted of child enticement. A person can be convicted of child enticement even if nothing sexual ever occurs between the defendant and the child. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 26C (2018).)
There are important defenses to consider in any statutory rape case.
Many states have “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions, named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers, that protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual activity with other 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. A conviction for child rape in Massachusetts can result in significant prison time. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 23, 23A (2018).)
In many states, it is a defense to a charge of statutory rape that the defendant and the child are married. However, there is no marital defense to statutory rape in Massachusetts. (For more information, see our article on marital rape.)
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 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).)
Judges in Massachusetts have broad discretion in fixing punishment for people convicted of crimes. While each criminal statute has a maximum possible sentence, judges are free to impose a shorter sentence.
Rape of a child is punishable by any amount of time in jail or prison and up to life imprisonment.
Aggravated rape of a child and indecent assault by a mandated reporter are punishable by a minimum term of ten years.
Indecent assault and battery against a child under the age of 14 is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail or up to ten years in prison.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13B, 13B1/2, 23, 23A (2018).)
People in Massachusetts who are convicted of child rape or indecent assault are required to register as sex offenders. Registered sex offenders must periodically provide personal information to local police officers and this personal information (including the offender’s name, address, and photograph) may then be made available to the public. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, § 178C (2018).)
It’s important to remember that the law can change at any time. If you are charged with a crime as a result of engaging in consensual sex with a person who is underage, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney immediately. A conviction for a sex crime against a child can result in serious and lasting consequences. The best way to avoid a conviction is to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court based on the law, the facts of your case, and the local judge and prosecutor. With an attorney’s help, you can protect your rights and defend yourself.
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 14, 2018