Missouri Statutory Rape Laws

Learn about statutory rape and related offenses in Missouri, including the age of consent and close-in-age exceptions.

By , Attorney

Missouri makes it illegal for a person to have sex with a minor younger than 17. Adults who engage in sexual activity with children under this age can be prosecuted and convicted of statutory rape, statutory sodomy, or other offenses in Missouri.

Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. 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.

What Is the Age of Consent in Missouri?

In Missouri, the age of consent is 17. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 17 can face charges for statutory rape, statutory sodomy, or other age-based crimes. For these unlawful offenses, it's immaterial whether the child consents to the activity. The child's age is the important fact, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.

Missouri's Statutory Rape Laws and Penalties

In Missouri, a person commits statutory rape or statutory sodomy by engaging in sexual intercourse, penetration, or stimulation with a child under the age of 17. If these statutory offenses involve "aggravating factors," the penalties increase. Here's how the law defines these offenses and aggravating factors.

Statutory rape. Statutory rape refers to sexual intercourse with an underage person. Sexual intercourse involves any penetration, however slight, of the female genitalia by the penis.

Statutory sodomy. Statutory sodomy involves any deviate sexual behavior (other than sexual intercourse as defined above), such as anal or oral sex or manual sexual stimulation, with an underage person.

Aggravating factors. Defendants will face harsher penalties if they have certain prior sex offense convictions or share a familial relationship (by blood, marriage, or adoption) with the victim.

What Are the Penalties for Statutory Rape and Statutory Sodomy in Missouri?

A person who commits statutory rape or statutory sodomy in Missouri can face serious criminal penalties, including lengthy terms of imprisonment and substantial fines. These crimes have the same penalties and differ only by the sexual act involved.

Penalties for First-Degree Statutory Rape or Statutory Sodomy

First-degree statutory rape or sodomy involves sexual acts with a minor who is younger than 14 years old. These age-of-consent offenses are felonies punishable by five years to life in prison. If aggravating factors apply or the victim is younger than 12 years old, the punishment increases to 10 years to life in prison.

Penalties for Second-Degree Statutory Rape or Statutory Sodomy

A person who is 21 or older and engages in sexual acts with someone younger than 17 commits second-degree statutory rape or sodomy. For instance, a sexual relationship involving a 16-year-old and a 22-year-old would fall under one of these crimes. A guilty defendant receives a class D felony conviction, which carries up to seven years in prison or one year in county jail and a $10,000 fine.

Does Missouri Have a Romeo-and-Juliet Law?

In many states, "Romeo-and-Juliet" exceptions—named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers—protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual conduct with others close to their own age.

Missouri law provides a Romeo-and-Juliet exception, often referred to as a close-in-age exception, for consensual sex between a minor who is between 14 and 17 years old and defendant who is younger than 21. So, for example, the law doesn't criminalize consensual sex between a 14-year-old and a 19-year-old. However, once a defendant turns 21, it's a crime to have sex with anyone younger than 17 (even if the couple previously fell under the Romeo-and-Juliet exception).

Other Age-of-Consent Crimes in Missouri

Missouri also penalizes other sexual behavior involving minors who are younger than the age of consent. These crimes include child molestation, sexual contact between a student and their teacher, and child enticement.

Child Molestation in the First- to Fourth-Degrees

A person who engages in sexual contact (short of intercourse or sodomy) with a child younger than 17 commits the crime of child molestation. The law provides for varying degrees of felony penalties from a few years to life in prison, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense. (This offense also has a limited Romeo-and-Juliet exception that applies when the child is 14 to 17 years old and the defendant is no more than four years older.)

Sexual Contact Between Student and Teacher

It's a crime for a defendant who is a school employee, official, volunteer, coach, director, contractor, or teacher (including student teacher) to engage in any sexual contact with a student of the school. The law doesn't specify the age of a student, so presumably, this offense applies to students of any age, including those 17 and older. Sexual contact with a student constitutes a class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison or one year in county jail and a $10,000 fine.

Child Enticement

Missouri law makes it a crime for a person who is 21 or older to invite or ask a child younger than 15 to engage in sexual conduct or to misrepresent one's age online in order to engage in sexual conduct with a child. Child enticement constitutes a felony, which carries a penalty of five to 30 years in prison.

Defenses to Statutory Rape Crimes in Missouri

Defendants charged with statutory rape or a related crime in Missouri have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.

Actual Innocence

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."

Marriage Exception

Missouri has a marital exemption for statutory rape, statutory sodomy, or child molestation that allows consensual sex between a married minor and their adult spouse, even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. The marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption.

Mistake of Age

In most states, mistake of age is not a defense to a statutory rape or sodomy charge. Missouri, however, allows this defense in cases involving a charge of second-degree statutory rape or sodomy or molestation of a child 14 or older when the defendant reasonably believed the minor was 17 or older.

Talk to a Lawyer

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.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 558.002, -.011; 566.010 to -.071, -.086, -.151 (2022).)

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