Sexual intercourse, even where both parties appear to consent to the activity, can be a crime if one of the people involved was under 16 years old. Consent is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape.
Statutory rape involves sexual intercourse or "unnatural sexual intercourse" by someone with a child under the age of 16. It does not matter whether the person involved thought the sex was consensual, because the law considers any sex with someone under 16 unlawful. A person 16 years or older is legally capable of consenting to sexual intercourse, but children under 16 are not legally able to consent. The penalties may depend on the age difference between the people involved.
Natural intercourse is any penetration of the female genitalia by male genitalia. The term "unnatural sexual intecourse" includes many other penetrating sex acts, including oral sex on a male or female, anal sex on a male or female, penetration with fingers, or even penetration with an object.
Statutory Rape Penalties
The penalties for statutory rape will depend on the fact surrounding the crime, including the defendant's prior record, the age of the victim, and the age of the defendant. Aggravating factors can add additional prison time upon conviction, or trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. A conviction for sexual intercourse with a child under 16 years of age can be punished by a maximum of life in prison.
If the defendant has a previous conviction for sex crimes including statutory rape, they can be sentenced for up to life in prison, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.
Age Difference for Statutory Rape
To be charged with statutory rape, the alleged perpetrator does not have to be an adult, someone under 18 can be charged for statutory rape. In some cases, both parties may be charged with statutory rape if both were under 16 years old.
There are mandatory minimum sentences involved where the victim is under 12 years old, and there is a 5 year or greater aged difference between the defendant and victim, or where the victim is between 12 and 16 years old and the age difference between the defendant and victim is more than 10 years apart. Imprisonment in these cases is up to a maximum of life in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 10 years.
Reporting of Statutory Rape
Statutory rape doesn't have to be reported by the alleged victim, and in many cases it is not. In some cases, the victim and defendant can be in a dating relationship. Parents, friends, family or people with a mandatory reporting requirement may report the incident to police.
State law requires people in some professions to report statutory rape, where they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child under 16 is a victim of statutory rape, for unlawful sexual intercourse. Mandatory reporters are individuals who must report suspected abuse due to their professional capacity.
Mandatory reporters include: physical and mental health providers, teachers, guidance counselors, family counselors, childcare workers, police and law enforcement officers, social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, foster parents, and members of the clergy. Upon learning of suspected abuse, they have to make a report to the Department of Social Services orally and in writing.
If a mandatory reporter, such as a teacher, counselor, or health care provider has sex with a child under 16, they will also face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in jail, with the possibility of life in prison.
Sex Offender Registration
Statutory rape is considered child rape by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and will result in an automatic requirement to register as a sex offender. The Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) handles the registration of people classified as sex offenders, and requires annual reporting, and notification any time the convicted sex offender moves. There are additional penalties associated with failing to timely register.
Defenses to Statutory Rape
Again, consent or perceived consent is not a defense to statutory rape as it is in charges of rape of an adult. It is also not a defense if the defendant did not know the victims real age or thought they were 16 or older. Even if the victim lied and said they were 16 years old, that is not a defense to statutory rape. The victim's actual age is the determining factor.
Statutory rape often involves little physical evidence, and may be charged months or years after the alleged sex took place. Because of this, defenses will vary depending on the individual facts of the specific case. Some possible defenses may include mistaken identity or false allegations.