Earlier this week, we began a discussion about statutory rape charges brought against teenagers who have committed sexual acts with other allegedly consenting teenagers. Consent is a very tricky issue when paired with the concepts of age, maturity and responsibility for committing sex crimes. Some individuals mature far slower than others and states across the country wrestle with this issue by declaring different ages of “sexual majority.”
In Wisconsin, minors under the age of 16 may not legally consent to any form of sexual contact. Additionally, minors ages 16 to 18 are considered incapable of consenting to intercourse. These age-level restrictions may be perfectly appropriate in most cases. But should age barriers be given greater consideration than the maturity levels and individual circumstances of each set of teenagers?
In Wisconsin, prosecutors have some discretion in whom they choose to prosecute and at what levels. This is an important power, as discretion is really the only check the system has on which teenage sex acts should be considered worthy of prosecution.
Of course, this discretion is not a perfect science. But experts have weighed in with guidance that prosecutors may follow. It is important that teenagers understand this guidance, as it may make the difference between being charged with criminal acts or not.
Experts have asserted that the majority of minors who have had intercourse before age 16 or so soon feel that the act was forced, even if they had verbally and physically agreed to it at the time. Unfortunately, the majority of young teens feel that they have been coerced, even if they don’t identify the coercion as an element of their own confusion or inexperience.
As a result, sex acts between teens aged 16 or younger and those 16 or older are at greater risk for being considered criminal. This does not mean that the older teen has ill intent or believes that the younger teen is incapable of consent. In fact, most teens probably wouldn’t think about the situation in these terms. But before older teens choose to engage in intercourse or other sex acts with younger teens, they should understand that in the eyes of the law, they are most likely behaving criminally.
The phrase is cliché and frustrating to hear. But in terms of teenage sex, both legally and for other reasons, the wait can truly be well worth it.
Source: Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, “Legal system separates Romeos from rapists,” Mike Nichols, Oct. 19, 2012