Age of Consent


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Main article: Age of consent

Age of consent laws in North America.

The ages of consent in North America for sexual activity vary by jurisdiction.

The age of consent in Canada is 16 and all US states set their limits between 16 and 18.

The ages of consent in the countries of Central America range from 15 to 18.

The age of consent in Mexico is complex. Typically, Mexican states have a “primary” age of consent (which may be as low as 12), and sexual conduct with persons below that age is always illegal. Sexual relations between adults and teenagers are left in a legal gray area: laws against adults “corrupting” minors may be used sometimes to punish such sexual encounters, as well as laws against engaging in sexual relations with “chaste and honest” teenage girls by means of “seduction”. These laws are situational and are subject to interpretation.

United States

The United States of America is a federation of states where the age of consent laws are made at the state level. There exist several federal statutes related to protecting minors from sexual predators, but none of them imposes an age limit on sexual acts. On 26 June 2003, both heterosexual and homosexual sodomy became legal in all US states and territories under a US Supreme Court decision called Lawrence v. Texas [39] (between non-commercial, consenting adults in a private bedroom). In Limon v. Kansas (2005), the Kansas Supreme Court used Lawrence as a precedent to overturn the state’s “Romeo and Juliet” law, which proscribed lesser penalties for heterosexuals than homosexuals convicted of similar age of consent related offenses.[40]

Federal laws

{Chapter 117, 18 U.S.C. 2422(b)} forbids the use of the United States Postal Service or other interstate or foreign means of communication, such as telephone calls or use of the internet, to persuade or entice a minor (defined as under 18 throughout chapter) to be involved in a criminal sexual act. The act has to be illegal under state or federal law to be charged with a crime under 2422(b), and can even be applied to situations where both parties reside within the same state but use an instant messenger program whose servers are located in another state.[41]

{Chapter 117, 18 U.S.C. 2423(a)} forbids transporting a minor (defined as under 18) in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent of engaging in criminal sexual acts in which a person can be charged. This subsection is ambiguous on its face and seems to apply only when the minor is transported across state or international lines to a place where the conduct is already illegal to begin with. The United States Department of Justice seems to agree with this interpretation.

{Chapter 117, 18 U.S.C. 2423(b)} forbids traveling in interstate or foreign commerce to engage in “illicit sexual conduct” with a minor. 2423(f) refers to Chapter 109A as its bright line for defining “illicit sexual conduct”, as far as non-commercial sexual activity is concerned. For the purposes of age of consent, the only provision applicable is {Chapter 109A, 18 U.S.C. 2243(a)}. 2243(a) refers to situations where such younger person is under the age of 16 years, has attained 12 years of age, and the older person is more than 4 years older than the 12-to-15-year-old (persons under 12 are handled under 18 U.S.C. 2241(c) under aggravated sexual abuse). So, the age is 12 years if one is within 4 years of the 12-to-15-year-old’s age, 16 under all other circumstances. This most likely reflects Congressional intent to not unduly interfere with a state’s age of consent law, which would have been the case if the age was set to 18 under all circumstances. This law is also extraterritorial in nature to U.S. Citizens and Residents who travel outside of the United States.

Although legislation tends to reflect general societal attitudes regarding male versus female ages of consent, Richard Posner notes in his Guide to America’s Sex Laws;

“The U.S. Supreme Court has held that stricter rules for males do not violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution, on the theory that men lack the disincentives (associated with pregnancy) that women have, to engage in sexual activity, and the law may thus provide men with those disincentives in the form of criminal sanctions.”[42]

The Assimilative Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. § 13) incorporates local state criminal law when on federal reservations such as Bureau of Land Management property, military posts and shipyards, national parks, national forests, inter alia. Consequently, if an act is not punishable by under any federal law (such as 18 U.S.C. 2243(a) mentioned above) then the local state’s age of consent laws would apply to the crime.

Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (10 U.S.C. § 920), to which essentially only members of the United States Armed Services and enemy prisoners of war are subject, defines the age of consent as sixteen years in subsection but requires evidence of force or coercion concerning victims between the ages of twelve and sixteen years. The victim’s age being under sixteen years is also an aggravating factor invoking harsher punishment under both Articles 120 and 125 (Sodomy, 10 U.S.C. § 925). Within the United States, United States servicemembers are further subject to the local state law both when off-post. The local state law is incorporated, for the most part, into federal law when on-post per the Assimilative Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. § 13). Depending upon the relevant status of forces agreement, United States servicemembers are also subject to the local criminal laws of the host nation for acts committed off-post.

State laws

Each US state has its own age of consent. Currently state laws set the age of consent at 16, 17 or 18. The most common age is 16 [43].

  • age of consent 16 (31): Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia
  • age of consent 17 (8): Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas
  • age of consent 18 (12): Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

For specific information on each state click on United States.

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