Washington Statutory Rape Laws

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

In Washington, 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. The state also forbids certain sexual contact and intercourse between minors who are more than a certain number of years apart in age. 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 Washington and prosecuted as forcible rape. Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery or child enticement or molestation laws.

Washington’s Statutory Rape Laws and Penalties

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Washington’s rape and child molestation laws. Penalties depend on the age of the parties and the type of sexual contact that occurred, as described below.

First degree rape of a child occurs when there is sexual intercourse (anal sex, oral sex, or sexual penetration, however slight, with an object or body part) between a minor who is 11 or younger, and a defendant who is at least two years older than the minor. This offense is a class A felony, which is punishable by up to life in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.20.21, 9A.44.010, 9A.44.073 (2018).)

Second degree rape of a child occurs when there is sexual intercourse between a minor who is 12 or 13, and a defendant who is at least three years older than the minor. This offense is also class A felony, punishable by up to life in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.20.21, 9A.44.010, 9A.44.076 (2018).)

Third degree rape of a child occurs when there is sexual intercourse between a minor who is 14 or 15, and a defendant who is at least four years older than the minor. This offense is a class C felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.20.21, 9A.44.010, 9A.44.079 (2018).)

First degree child molestation occurs when there is sexual contact (sexual touching, even over clothing, without penetration) between a minor who is 11 or younger, and a defendant who is at least three years older than the minor. This offense is a class A felony, which is punishable by up to life in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.20.21, 9A.44.010, 9A.44.083 (2018).)

Second degree child molestation occurs when there is sexual contact between a minor who is 12 or 13, and a defendant who is at least three years older than the minor. This offense is a class B felony, which is punishable by up to ten years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.20.21, 9A.44.010, 9A.44.086 (2018).)

Third degree child molestation occurs when there is sexual contact between a minor who is 14 or 15, and a defendant who is at least four years older than the minor. This offense is a class C felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.20.21, 9A.44.010, 9A.44.089 (2018).)

Sex Offender Registration

State law requires that, in addition to the applicable fines and prison time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) must register as sex offenders. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.44.128, 9A.44.130, 9A.44.140 (2018).)

Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge in Washington

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, beyond these, a few defenses exist for statutory rape.

The “Romeo and Juliet” Exception

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 Washington, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between a minor younger than 12 and another minor who is not more than two years older (three years older for sexual contact without penetration). It also includes a minor who is 12 or 13 and another minor who is not more than three years older (four years for sexual contact without penetration). And it also covers a minor who is 14 or 15 who has sex or sexual contact with someone who is four or fewer years older than that minor. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.44.073, 9A.44.076, 9A.44.079, 9A.44.083, 9A.44.086, 9A.44.089 (2018).)

Marriage

Washington has a marital exemption for statutory rape, which allows married people to have consensual sex, even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. This defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.44.010, 9A.44.073, 9A.44.076, 9A.44.079, 9A.44.083, 9A.44.086, 9A.44.089 (2018).)

Minors are legally incapable of giving consent to having sex; so for example, if Jen, a 14-year-old willingly has sex with Tony, her 19-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 Washington, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Washington 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.

Mistake of Age

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. In Washington, unlike in most states, a reasonable mistake as to the victim's age can sometimes be a defense to a charge of statutory rape. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. § 9A.44.030 (2018).)

See a Lawyer

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.

Help for Rape and Sexual Assault Survivors

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 8, 2018

Talk to a Lawyer

Start here to find criminal defense lawyers near you.

How it Works

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

Talk to a Defense attorney

We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

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