Vermont Statutory Rape Laws

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

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 3/14/2024

In Vermont, it's illegal to engage in sexual activities with an underage minor, even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed a statutory rape offense.

What Is the Age of Consent in Vermont?

Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors of a certain age 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 in Vermont is 16. The state has harsh penalties for those convicted of statutory rape offenses.

Vermont's Statutory Rape Laws

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Vermont's sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim and the conduct that occurred (sexual act or lewd and lascivious conduct).

Sexual acts include vaginal, oral, and anal sex or any intrusion of a body part or object into another's genital or anal openings.

Lewd and lascivious conduct refers to any intentional act or contact with a body part intended to arouse, appeal to, or gratify a person's lusts, passions, or sexual desires. Body parts are not limited to intimate body parts.

What Are the Penalties for Statutory Rape in Vermont?

Vermont's penalties for statutory rape offenses range anywhere from a couple of years to life in prison.

Aggravated Sexual Assault: Child Younger Than 13

The harshest penalties fall under Vermont's aggravated sexual assault law. This law prohibits an adult defendant (18 or older) from engaging in a sexual act with a child younger than 13. A convicted defendant faces 10 years to life in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Sexual Assault: Child Younger Than 16

A person commits sexual assault by engaging in a sexual act with a child younger than 16. A conviction means up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The law provides an exception for consensual sex between married individuals or a victim age 15 and a defendant younger than 19. No crime has been committed if the parties fall into one of these exceptions.

Lewd or Lascivious Conduct With a Child Younger Than 16

Engaging in lewd or lascivious conduct with a child younger than 16 is also a crime. For a first conviction, a person faces 2 to 15 years of incarceration and a $5,000 fine. Second and subsequent convictions carry fines of up to $25,000 and prison sentences that range from 5 years to life. (Having an aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault conviction on record counts as a prior conviction for these penalties.)

Similar to sexual assault, no crime is committed if consensual conduct occurs between married individuals or a victim age 15 and a defendant younger than 19.

(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 2602, 3251, 3252, 3253 (2024).)

Does Vermont Have a Romeo-and-Juliet Law?

Yes. 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.

Vermont has a couple of Romeo-and-Juliet laws. As noted above, the crimes of sexual assault and lewd-and-lascivious conduct don't apply to consensual acts between older teens who are close in age—when the defendant is younger than 19 and the minor is 15. Vermont also doesn't impose its harshest penalties for aggravated sexual assault on juvenile defendants. If a juvenile defendant (younger than 18) engages in sexual acts with a child younger than 13, the crime would, instead, be sexual assault.

Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge in Vermont

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." Vermont also permits a limited marital defense in cases where a minor and defendant are married and sexual acts are consensual.

However, like most states, Vermont doesn't permit a defendant to raise a mistake-of-age defense. It doesn't matter if the defendant reasonably thought the victim was older or the victim claimed to be older. (State v. Searles, 159 Vt. 525 (1993).)

Is Sex Offender Registration Required for Statutory Rape in Vermont?

Vermont law requires adults (18 and older) convicted of any of the above statutory rape crimes to register as a sex offender. Juveniles don't need to register if they were younger than 18 and the victim was 12 or older when the offense occurred.

Registration requirements generally last 10 years to life. Failure to register carries criminal penalties of two to five years' incarceration.

(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 5401, 5402, 5407, 5409 (2024).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're facing a statutory rape charge, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. It's generally best to speak to a lawyer before talking to investigators or police.

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