The legal age of consent in the United States at the federal level is 16 years. Sexual relationships with a person aged less than 16 years amount to statutory rape, and it is punishable by the law. Apart from the federal law on statutory rape, each of the states in the US has its local laws regarding consensual sex. The consensual age varies from 16 years to 18 years depending on the state.
The Legal Age of Consent in the Us by State
States Where the Consensual Age Is 16 Years
In 32 of the US states, the legal age of consent is 16 years. They include Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Washington.
18 of these states have close in age exemption laws which protect underage couples who consent to sexual activities from prosecution, even in cases where one of the partners is slightly over the age of consent. In Connecticut for example, a person aged 13 years can give in to a sexual relationship if the older partner is not more than three years their senior. Children who are less than 13 years old can also consent to sexual activities with partners who are not more than two years older. However, if the older partner is a guardian or a person of authority to the minor, the age of consent is 18 years.
States Where the Consensual Age Is 17 Years
In Wyoming, Texas, New York, New Mexico, Missouri, Louisiana, Illinois, and Colorado, persons aged less than 17 years cannot legally agree to sexual relations. Out of the eight states, only Colorado and New Mexico have a close in age exception. In New Mexico, a person who is 18 years or older can have a consensual sexual relationship with a person aged below 17 years as long as they are not more than four years younger. This law, however, 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 Consensual Age Is 18 Years
Eleven states, including Wisconsin, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Oregon, North Dakota, Idaho, Florida, Delaware, California, and Arizona, outlaw sexual relationships with partners who are below 18 years of age. Only six of these states have close in age exceptions to prevent the prosecution of partners who engage in consensual sex with minors within their age brackets. In Tennessee, for example, teenagers aged between 13 and 18 years can agree to sexual activities with partners who are not more than four years older.
Protection of Minors
Statutory rape laws are necessary for the society because they protect minors from sexual exploitation. Most communities deem young people capable of making decisions concerning intimate relationships when they attain 16 years of age. However, even in these societies, persons below 18 years of age are still considered as children and the law protects them from sexual exploitation, especially by persons of authority and close relatives such as guardians.