Romeo and Juliet Law; the Controversial Sex Crime Law in 24 States of the US

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Romeo and Juliet Law

The Romeo and Juliet law is a component of the several laws under statutory rape. Generally, statutory rape is seen in law as a type of sex crime involving a difference in age rather than the use of force and violence. 

The Romeo and Juliet law is a very sensitive one that has raised the concerns of many parents and Sex Crime experts too. With that in mind, thelawaroundhere have outlined in every clear term, all the important details that you should know about the Romeo and Juliet law, and how it affects you and your family.

What is Romeo and Juliet Law?

This law provides that a person can legally have consensual sexual relations with a minor provided that he or she is not more than a given number of years older, generally five years or less.

Many states in the United States of America have enacted the Romeo and Juliet Law, which is also referred to as the close-in-age exemptions. In some states, it is not legal for a person below the age of consent to have sex with a slightly older person, however, the older partner may be exempted from being registered as a sex offender.

What is the age of consent in the United States?

The age of consent throughout history has generally coincided with the age of puberty. Over the past century, there has been various pressures and moves to raise the age of consent, but the reasons for this change have always remained unclear. When someone is charged with a sexual crime, including date rape or legal rape, the term “consent” becomes one of the most important words in the world.

What does consent mean? Consent is in its simplest term seen as “the voluntary assent to the proposal of someone”. By implication, for consent to be present between two persons, they must both accept and want to engage in the actions that follow (while remaining unrestrained and free of any form of duress).

Some people are legally unable to consent to relationships. This most often applies to legal rape cases where the age of consent has been violated. If a person engages in sex with someone under the age of consent, they are guilty of legal rape, as their legal consent likely could not have been present. This is true even if the victim has attempted to give express consent.

The legal age of consent varies from one country to another. In the United States of America, the legal age of consent at the federal level is 16. Sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16 constitutes legal rape and is subject to criminal penalties. In addition to the federal law on legal rape, each of the states in the United States has its local laws regarding consented sex. The consensual age varies from 16 to 18 depending on the state.

States where the age of consent is 16

In 32 US states, the legal age of consent is 16. They include Ohio, South Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Washington Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Carolina North, and Oklahoma.

Among these states, eighteen (18) of them have narrow exemption laws that protect underage couples who consent to sexual activity from prosecution, even in cases where one partner is slightly over the age of consent.

In Connecticut, for example, a 13-year-old can give in to sex if the older partner is no more than three years old. Children under 13 can also consent to activities. sex with a partner under the age of two.

However, if the older partner is a guardian or person with authority over the minor, the age of consent is 18.

States where the age of consent is 17

In states like Texas, New York, Wyoming, Missouri, Louisiana, Illinois, Colorado and New Mexico, individuals aged 17 and below cannot legally agree to sex.

Of the eight states, only Colorado and New Mexico have a close age exception. In New Mexico, a person 18 years of age or older can have consensual sex with a person under the age of 17 if they are not more than four years younger, however, this law does not apply in cases where the older partner is an employee, volunteer or health service provider in the minor’s school.

States where the age of consent is 18

Eleven states, including Wisconsin, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Oregon, North Dakota, Idaho, Florida, Delaware, California and Arizona, ban sex with partners under the age of 18.

Only six of these states have short-age exceptions to prevent the prosecution of partners who have consensual sex with minors in their age group. In Tennessee, for example, teens between the ages of 13 and 18 can agree to sex with a partner who is no more than four years older.

Romeo and Juliet Law in the United States

As of the year 2007, the Romeo and Juliet laws were passed in Connecticut and Indiana. The Indiana law made few changes by decriminalizing consensual sex between adolescents who are found by a court to be in a “dating relationship” with an age difference of four years or less. Other states have adopted other reforms with Michigan passing the Romeo and Juliet Law in 2011.

The states in the US with forms of Romeo and Juliet Laws include:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Some countries other than the United States also have Romeo and Juliet laws. Ireland’s 2006 law has been contested because it treats girls differently from boys.

Does the Romeo and Juliet Law Encourage Rape?

In any case, the “Romeo and Juliet” clause will not prevent the prosecution of rape or sexual assault, even if the age gap is less than five years. In this case, the new law will certainly not apply, but judges will be able to continue, as at present, to take into account the circumstances to consider that the minor was not consenting.

Concretely, if an 18-year-old boy takes advantage of a 14-year-old girl by drugging or raping her in her sleep, he will have no impunity, because that’s a clear case of rape.

This law is meant to prevent “unfairly traumatic” proceedings, which would be brought by the parents of the minor because they disapprove of the romantic relationship of their teenager, sometimes because of a difference in race, religion, culture, or because the relationship is same-sex. Such situations are not uncommon, and it is, therefore, necessary to ensure that young people who love each other are not labeled perpetrators of sexual violence.

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