In Ohio, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than 16), even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed statutory rape.
Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. Their incapacity is written into the statute—hence the term, “statutory” rape. 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.
Though statutory rape does not require that the prosecutor prove an assault, it is still rape. Of course, rape that does involve force or an assault is illegal in Ohio and prosecuted as forcible rape. Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery or child enticement laws.
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Ohio’s rape and sex crime laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, and the conduct that occurred, as described below.
Rape includes sexual conduct (genital, oral, or anal sex, or penetration with an object or body part, however slight) with a minor who is younger than 13. Rape is a first degree felony, which is punishable by at least three years (and up to life) in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2907.01, 2907.02, 2929.14, 2929.18, 2971.03 (2018).)
Unlawful sexual conduct with a minor includes sexual conduct between a minor who is 13, 14, or 15, and a defendant who is 18 or older. It is a fourth degree felony if the defendant is four or more (but fewer than ten) years older than the victim, and is punishable by at least six months in jail (and up to 18 months in prison), a fine of up to $5,000, or both. If the defendant is ten or more years older than the victim, the offense is a third degree felony, and penalties include at least one (and up to five) years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. And if the defendant is fewer than four years older than the victim, the offense is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2907.01, 2907.04, 2929.14, 2929.18, 2929.23, 2929.28 (2018).)
Gross sexual imposition includes sexual contact (sexual touching, without penetration, for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desires) with a minor who is younger than 13. This offense is a third degree felony, which is punishable by at least one (and up to five) years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2907.01, 2907.05, 2929.14, 2929.18 (2018).)
State law requires that, in addition to the applicable fines and prison time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including some instances of statutory rape) must register as sex offenders. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2950.01 and following (2018).)
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.” One or more of the following defenses may also apply.
Ohio has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between married minors and their adult spouses even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2907.02, 2907.04, 2907.05 (2018).) (The marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption.)
Minors are legally incapable of giving consent to having sex; so for example, if Jen, a 15-year-old willingly has sex with Tony, her 23-year-old boyfriend, Tony can be charged with rape, since Jen is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place.
But if Jen and Tony are married and living in Ohio, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Ohio has a marital exemption to the state’s statutory rape laws.
However, if Tony were to rape Jen (force her to have sex against her will), he would have no protection under the law even if the two are married.
Named after Shakespeare’s young lovers, “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions are intended to prevent serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their own age. In Ohio, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between two minors who are at least 13 but younger than 18. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2907.04 (2018).)
And as mentioned above, the crime of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor carries reduced penalties when the victim is at least 13 but younger than 16 and the defendant is 18 or older and fewer than four years older than the minor. However, a conviction may nonetheless result in a fine, jail time, or both. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2907.04 (2018).)
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 herself represented that she was older than she was, and that a reasonable person would have believed her. But even if this is true, a defendant cannot rely on a mistake of age—even a reasonable one—to avoid conviction in Ohio. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2907.02, 2907.04, 2907.05 (2018).)
If you are facing a statutory rape charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. The law can change at any time, and a lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case.
A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or a reduction in penalties (such as, for example, probation instead of prison time) and will know how prosecutors and judges typically handle cases like yours.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.
Updated October 18, 2018