Ohio Statutory Rape Laws

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

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated 1/02/2024

Ohio law makes it illegal for a person to have consensual sexual activity with a minor younger than 16, with a few exceptions (see below). Anyone who engages in such unlawful conduct can face charges for rape, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, gross sexual imposition, or sexual battery.

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. Keep in mind that engaging in any sexual activity without the other person's consent can result in more serious charges and penalties, no matter what the age of the other person.

What Is the Age of Consent in Ohio?

In Ohio, the age of consent is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 can face charges for statutory rape or a similar crime. The age of consent increases to 18 when the offender maintains certain positions of trust or authority over the child.

For these age-based sexual offenses, it's immaterial whether the child consented to the activity or not. The child's age is the important fact, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.

Ohio's Statutory Rape Laws and Penalties

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Ohio's rape and sex crime laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim and the type of sexual activity that occurred. Second and subsequent convictions can result in harsher penalties.

Sexual conduct includes genital, oral, or anal sex, or penetration with an object or body part, however slight.

Sexual contact means sexual touching, without penetration, to arouse or gratify a person's sexual desires.

Rape (Child Younger Than 13)

A person commits rape by engaging in sexual conduct with a child younger than 13 years old. Rape constitutes a first-degree felony, which is punishable by three years to life in prison and a $20,000 fine. The maximum life sentence does not, however, apply to a first-time offender who was younger than 16 at the time of the offense, so long as the victim wasn't younger than 10.

Unlawful Sexual Conduct With a Minor Age 13 to 15

Unlawful sexual conduct with a minor occurs when a person who is 18 or older engages in sexual conduct with a minor who is 13 to 15 years old. Penalties for this crime range from a first-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.

First-degree misdemeanor. Unlawful sexual conduct constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor when the defendant is less than four years older than the victim. A first-degree misdemeanor subjects a guilty defendant to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Fourth-degree felony. If the offender is between 4 to 10 years older than the victim, the crime is a fourth-degree felony and carries penalties of 6 to 18 months of incarceration and a $5,000 fine.

Second-degree felony. An offender who is 10 or more years older than the victim is guilty of a third-degree felony and faces one to 5 years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

Gross Sexual Imposition and Sexual Imposition

A person is guilty of gross sexual imposition when they have sexual contact with a minor younger than 13. The punishment for this third-degree felony is one to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Sexual imposition, a third-degree misdemeanor, occurs when a person who is at least 18 years old has sexual contact with a minor who is 13 to 15 years old, and the offender is four or more years older than the victim. A guilty defendant faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Sexual Battery by Persons in a Position of Trust or Authority

Ohio law also makes it a crime for certain adults in positions of supervision or trust to engage in sexual conduct with a minor younger than 18. Those in a position of supervision or trust may include the child's teacher or an employee at the child's school, their coach, or their scouting troop leader.

Sexual battery constitutes a felony in the third degree, which is punishable by one to five years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. However, if the victim is younger than 13, the prosecutor can charge the offense as a second-degree felony. A guilty defendant faces two to eight years' imprisonment, plus an additional fifty percent of that term.

Does Ohio 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. Ohio has Romeo-and-Juliet laws but with some limitations.

Ohio's Romeo-and-Juliet exemptions apply to consensual sexual conduct between close-in-age minors who are at least 13 but younger than 18. For example, Ohio's law doesn't criminalize consensual sex between a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old.

The state's laws also carry reduced penalties when the age difference between an adult defendant and a victim is less than four years. However, a conviction may nonetheless result in a fine and jail time.

Finally, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that when two minors who are both younger than 13 engage in sexual activity, no crime exists, as the distinction between the offender and the victim breaks down.

Possible Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge in Ohio

Defendants charged with sex-related crimes of minors in Ohio 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."

Consent. While many offenders attempt to use consent as a defense, this does not constitute a sufficient defense in sex crime prosecutions involving a victim younger than 16 in Ohio.

Mistake of age. Defendants accused of statutory rape often claim that they had no reason to know that their partner was underage. They may argue that the victim represented their age to be older and a reasonable person would have believed them. Ohio recognizes a mistake-of-age defense only for the crime of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. For this offense, the offender must know the minor is 13 to 15 years old or be reckless in that regard.

Marriage. Ohio has a marital exemption for statutory rape 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.

Does Sex Offender Registration Apply to Statutory Rape Crimes in Ohio?

Ohio's Sex Offender Registration and Notification (SORN) law requires, in addition to the applicable fines and incarceration time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) to register as sex offenders. Depending on the level of the offense, registration lasts from 15 years to life.

Ohio divides its sex offenses into three tiers (I, II, and III). The tier designation a particular sex crime receives will determine the length of sex offender registration. For example, sexual battery of a minor is a tier III crime (the highest), which means a guilty defendant must remain on the registry for life. When the defendant is a juvenile, the judge (not the offense) decides the tier. Juvenile defendants whose crimes fall into tier I or II do not have mandatory registration requirements.

Failure to register can result in additional criminal charges ranging from third- to fourth-degree felony convictions and the associated penalties, and even harsher felony-level punishments for subsequent failures.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're facing a charge of 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.

(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2907.01, 2907.02, 2907.03, 2907.04, 2907.05, 2907.06, 2929.14, 2929.18, 2929.23, 2929.28, 2929.144, 2950.01, 2971.03 (2023); In re D.B., 129 Ohio St.3d 104 (2011).)

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