In Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania and prosecuted as forcible rape. Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery laws and child enticement and abuse laws.
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Pennsylvania’s rape and sexual assault laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, and the conduct that occurred, as described below.
Rape includes sexual intercourse (including genital, oral, or anal penetration, however slight) with a minor who is younger than 13 years old. This offense is a first degree felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to 40 years in prison, or both. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 1101, 3121 (2018).)
Statutory sexual assault includes sexual intercourse (including genital, oral, or anal penetration, however slight) with a child who 13, 14, or 15, when:
A conviction for statutory sexual assault can result in up to 20 years in prison, a fine of as much as $25,000, or both. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 1101, 1103, 3122.1 (2018).)
Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse includes oral sex, anal sex, or genital or anal penetration with an object between a minor who is younger than 13 and a defendant of any age. It also includes minors who are 13, 14, or 15 when the defendant is at least four years older than the victim. This offense is a first degree felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to 40 years in prison, or both. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 1101, 3123 (2018).)
Aggravated indecent assault includes genital or anal penetration (however slight) with a body part, between a minor who is younger than 13 and a defendant of any age. It also includes minors who are 13, 14, or 15 when the defendant is at least four years older than the victim. This offense is a second degree felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to ten years in prison, or both. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 1101, 1103, 3125 (2018).)
Indecent assault includes any sexual or intimate touching for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire. If the minor is younger than 13, this offense is a first degree misdemeanor, which incurs a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both. If the minor is at least 13, it is a second degree misdemeanor, which incurs a fine of as much as $5,000, up to two years in prison, or both. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 1101, 1104, 3126 (2018).)
It is also a criminal offense in Pennsylvania for teachers, other school employees, and school volunteers to engage in sexual activity with school students who are under the care and control of the defendant. This offense is a third degree felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 3124.2 (2018).)
State law requires—in addition to the applicable fines and prison time—that people convicted of certain instances of statutory rape must register as sex offenders. (42 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 9799.14, 9799.15 (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.” However, under Pennsylvania’s laws, there are other defenses that can apply to statutory rape cases.
Pennsylvania has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor and that minor’s spouse, even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 3122.1, 3123, 3125, 3126 (2018).)
Minors are legally incapable of giving consent to having sex; so for example, if Jen, who is 15 years old, willingly has sex with Tony, her 23-year-old boyfriend, Tony can face criminal charges, since Jen is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place.
But if Jen and Tony are married and living in Pennsylvania, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Pennsylvania has a marital exemption to the state’s statutory rape laws. The marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption.
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 Pennsylvania, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption that prevents the prosecution of consensual sexual acts between a minor who is 13 or older and a defendant who is less than four years older. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 3122.1, 3123, 3125, 3126 (2018).)
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 as many as 40 years in prison.
Defendants accused of statutory rape often claim that they had no reason to know that their partner was underage. They may argue that the child said that he or she was of age, and that a reasonable person would have believed it. Unlike in most states, in Pennsylvania mistake of age can sometimes be a defense. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 3102 (2018).)
Laws can change at any time time. If you are facing a statutory rape charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. 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 August 8, 2018