Lis and the Single Girl: Is it Statutory Rape if I Love Him?

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Single and fabulous? Well then this is the column for you!

Ever wish you had your own personal Carrie Bradshaw to answer your questions — not just about what to do if your boyfriend dumps you via text message — but serious issues that confront us? This special daily edition of “Lis on Law” will address topics that single women are faced with and that everybody wonders about — but no one has time to figure out.

Between work, working out, dating and maintaining a social life, it’s tough to find time to do much else. So, read up and prepare to be fully armed for brunch this weekend with your friends with some super conversation topics! Your pals will be amazed!

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If I have sex with a minor can I go to jail for statutory rape, even if I love him? Will I be treated the same as a man?

The simple answers are yes and maybe. Yes, you can be convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a minor and maybe you would be treated the same as a man. And, aside from statutory rape, there are a wide range of charges for sleeping with a minor depending on a wide range of circumstances, so like everything in law, the answer is always complex.

Let’s start with the basics. Statutory rape is the crime of having sex with a minor under the “age of consent,” the age at which individuals are considered competent to say “yes” to sexual conduct. The age of consent varies according to state, but in most areas, the standard age is 18. Under the law, statutory rape differs from other forms of rape in that overt force or threat need not be present. In other words, if you’re over 18 years old and are in a loving and committed relationship with a minor — you can be prosecuted for statutory rape, but as I said above, there are factors to consider.

If a person is no more than three years older than the minor (remember, this applies even if he’s your boyfriend), you can be guilty of a misdemeanor. If a person is more than three years older than the teen, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. If a person is over 21 years old and has sex with someone under 16, you’re guilty of a misdemeanor or felony. And finally, if a person has sex with someone under 14 years old and that person is over 14, you can be prosecuted for child abuse and found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony. I know that’s a lot to absorb, but it’s our current law. It’s important to note that even if there’s mutual consent, the older participant can still be prosecuted for unlawful sexual conduct.

Now that we’ve talked about logistics, I’m sure you’re wondering what punishment results from these acts. If convicted of a misdemeanor, sentencing may range from a fine to imprisonment in a county jail for up to a year. If convicted of a felony, you potentially face up to four years or more in state prison.

The variations in degree and severity of sex crimes usually leads to mass confusion in that many people assume that any violation for sex with a minor is considered “statutory rape.” Hopefully, these facts will clarify these misconceptions.

In answering the second part of your question, as far as culpability for statutory rape, gender does not matter. In the past, the law often ignored intercourse involving an adult female and an underage male. Societal stereotypes told us that sex was less of a traumatic or negative experience for a guy. In recent years, our perceptions have shifted — especially when the female is in a position of authority. In fact, over the past few years, there have been several high profile cases involving the prosecution of adult females for participating in sexual relationships with minors. Remember Mary Kay Letourneau, Debra Lafave, Pamela Rogers Turner and Pamela Smart? I’ll certainly never forget the stories of these beautiful schoolteachers engaging in a sexual relationship with their young teenage students. Let me ask, what exactly were they teaching?

Bottom line — Although the law varies in terms of defining unlawful sexual conduct and the punishment thereof, the only truly legal sex with a minor is if the couple marries. My advice, know the law of your state, the age of consent and when in doubt, err on the side of caution. You know how the ol’ saying goes, “better safe than sorry.”

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• State Age of Sexual Consent Laws

• Rape

• Statutory rape

• Sex With a Minor

• What is unlawful sexual intercourse?

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The information contained in this Web site feature entitled “LIS ON LAW,” is provided as a service to visitors of, and does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney client relationship. FOX NEWS NETWORK, LLC makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this web site feature and its associated sites. Nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of your own counsel.

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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. (Watch the Video) To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.