Virginia Statutory Rape Laws

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

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated February 26, 2024

Virginia law makes it illegal for a person to have consensual sexual activity with a minor younger than 18, with a few exceptions (see below). Anyone who engages in such unlawful conduct can face charges for rape, forcible sodomy, carnal knowledge of a child, and causing or encouraging juvenile delinquency.

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.

What Is the Age of Consent in Virginia?

In Virginia, the age of consent is 18. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 18 can face charges for statutory rape or a similar 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.

Virginia's Statutory Rape Laws and Penalties

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

Rape and Forcible Sodomy of a Child Younger Than 13

A person commits rape by having consensual sexual intercourse with a child younger than 13 years old. Forcible sodomy occurs when an offender engages in consensual anal or oral sex with a victim younger than 13. Both offenses are felonies and carry five years to life in prison and a $100,000. If the offender was an adult at the time of the offense, the punishment is life in prison.

Carnal Knowledge of a Child Age 13 or 14

An offender who "carnally knows" a 13- or 14-year-old child commits a Class 4 felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Carnal knowledge includes consensual sexual intercourse, oral or anal sex, and object sexual penetration.

When the parties are close in age, reduced penalties may apply. If the child consents to the sexual conduct and is at least three years younger than the accused (also a minor), the offense is a Class 6 felony, with penalties of one to 5 years in prison or up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. If the consenting child is one or two years younger than the accused, the unlawful conduct constitutes a Class 4 misdemeanor. Such an offense carries a $250 fine.

Causing or Encouraging Juvenile Delinquency (Child Age 15, 16, or 17)

An adult who engages in consensual sexual intercourse or anal or oral sex with a child who's 15, 16, or 17 is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Does Virginia Have a Romeo-and-Juliet Law?

Yes, with limitations. In many states, "Romeo and Juliet" exceptions—named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers—protect young people from harsh criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual conduct with others close to their own age.

Virginia's Romeo-and-Juliet exemption protects from prosecution certain minors who engage in consensual sex. The exemption applies to consensual sexual conduct between minors who are 15 to 17 years old. Engaging in sex with a child under the age of 15 is always a crime.

Defenses to Statutory Rape Charges in Virginia

Defendants charged with sex-related crimes of minors in Virginia 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 18 but might allow for lesser penalties in certain circumstances.

Mistake of age. Virginia, like many states, doesn't recognize a mistake-of-age defense for sex crimes involving underage victims, even if the defendant's belief was reasonable or the child lied about their age or looked older.

Marriage. Virginia has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor 15 or older 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 Offenses in Virginia?

Virginia's Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry Act requires, in addition to the applicable fines and incarceration time, adults convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) to register as sex offenders. These crimes include rape, forcible sodomy, and carnal knowledge of a child. The law also applies to juveniles found delinquent of these offenses.

Depending on the offense level, registration lasts from 15 years to life. First-time failure to register constitutes a Class 1 misdemeanor. Subsequent failures can result in Class 6 felony convictions.

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.

(Va. Code §§ 9.1-901, 9.1-902, 9.1-908, 9.1-910, 18.2-10, 18.2-11, 18.2-61, 18.2-63, 18.2-64.1, 18.2-67.1, 18.2-67.10, 18.2-371 (2024).)

Get Professional Help

Talk to a Sex Crime attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you