Pennsylvania 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 criminal charges.
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 by force or without the other person's consent can result in more serious charges and penalties, no matter the age of the other person.
In Pennsylvania, the age of consent is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 may face criminal charges for child rape, statutory sexual assault, or a related crime. 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.
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Pennsylvania's rape of a child, statutory sexual assault, deviate sexual intercourse, and indecent assault laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim and the conduct that occurred, as described below.
Rape of a child occurs when an offender has sexual intercourse (including genital, oral, or anal penetration, however slight) with a minor who is younger than 13. This offense constitutes a first-degree felony that carries up to 40 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. If the child suffers a serious bodily injury as a result of this offense, the defendant faces up to life in prison.
A person commits the crime of statutory sexual assault by having sexual intercourse (including genital, oral, or anal penetration, however slight) with a child who is 13, 14, or 15, when:
A second-degree felony subjects a guilty defendant to up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, while a first-degree felony carries up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
A person is guilty of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child by engaging in sexual intercourse (including penetration with a foreign object) with a minor younger than 13 or with a minor age 13, 14, or 15 and the defendant is at least four years older than the victim.
Both crimes are first-degree felonies and a conviction carries up to 40 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. If the victim is younger than 13 and suffers a serious bodily injury, the offender faces up to life in prison.
Sexual contact or penetration (not intercourse) with a child can also result in age-based criminal charges for indecent assault. These crimes apply when the child is younger than 13 or the child is 13, 14, or 15 and the defendant is four or more years older than the child.
Aggravated indecent assault occurs when a person of any age uses a body part to engage in genital or anal penetration (however slight) with an underage minor. Such unlawful conduct constitutes a second-degree felony, which subjects a defendant to up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Indecent assault. A person commits indecent assault by having indecent sexual contact with a victim or causing a victim to come into contact with seminal fluid, urine, or feces for the purpose of sexual arousal. Depending on the circumstances of the offense and the age of the parties, indecent assault can be a third-degree felony or a first- or second-degree misdemeanor. Misdemeanor penalties carry up to five years' incarceration and a $10,000 fine. For a felony offense, a guilty defendant can face up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
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.
Pennsylvania has a Romeo-and-Juliet law that prevents the prosecution of consensual sexual activity between a minor age 13 or older and a defendant who is less than four years older than the child. So, for example, the law doesn't criminalize consensual sexual contact between a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old.
However, sexual contact with a child younger than 13 is always a serious crime, no matter the age of the defendant. A conviction for sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 13 can result in up to 40 years in prison.
Defendants charged with statutory rape crimes in Pennsylvania have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.
Defendants charged with a statutory rape crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."
Pennsylvania has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex acts 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.
Unlike most states, Pennsylvania does recognize a mistake-of-age defense for sex crimes involving underage victims in certain circumstances when the age of consent is 14 or older. It cannot serve as a defense where the victim is younger than 14.
Pennsylvania's Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requires adult defendants and juveniles who are convicted of serious sex crimes to register as sex offenders for 15 years, 25 years, or life, depending on the offense. These include all the age-based offenses listed above. Failure to comply with registration requirements can result in an additional felony charge.
If you are facing charges 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 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.
(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 1101, 1103, 1104, 3101, 3102, 3121 to 3126; 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 9799.14, .15 (2022).)