What Is The Age of Consent In The United States?

Age Of Consent In Each State - Age Of Consent By State - What Is Age Of Consent - What Does Age Of Consent Mean - Age Of Consent In Usa America

What is the age of consent in the US? 

This article digs into: 

  • what age of consent is
  • the age of consent for each state
  • what happens if you break the age of consent laws
  • what charges you will face
  • how to defend against those charges

Keep scrolling to learn more.

Table of Contents

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What Is Age Of Consent?

Age of consent is the youngest age that someone can legally agree to sexual activities. 

The age of consent varies from state to state. 

But, usually the age a person can consent is between 16 to 18 years.

Laws about the age of consent protect young people from abuse. 

They recognize that young individuals may not fully understand or consent to sexual activities.

Some places have “close-in-age exemptions.” 

These exemptions allow young people close in age to engage in sexual activities legally. 

This is even if one or both are below the age of consent. 

The idea is to avoid punishing consensual, non-exploitative relationships.

How Does Age Of Consent Work?

The age of consent sets the legal age you must be to agree to sex. 

Here’s how age of consent works:

  • Legal Age Set: Each state decides an age that’s the cutoff for legally saying yes to sexual activities.
  • Consent Below Age Prohibited: If you’re below this age, the law says you can’t consent to sex.
  • To Protect Young People: This rule helps keep young people safe from being taken advantage of.
  • Adults Can Consent: Once you reach this age, you’re seen as able to make your own choices about sex.
  • Close-in-Age Exemptions: If two young people are very close in age, sometimes the law doesn’t apply to them.
  • Varies by Location: This age isn’t the same everywhere; it changes depending on what state you live in.

What Is The Law For Age Of Consent?

Let’s look at the laws around age of consent. 

This section will tell you: 

  • what your charges will be
  • your jail time, fines, and whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor
  • what defenses get used when you break age of consent laws

What Happens If You Break Age Of Consent Laws?

  • Statutory Rape: Having sexual relations with a minor below the age of consent. This is a felony with 1 – 6 years in prison, fines up to $500,000, and mandatory sex offender registration.
  • Sexual Assault: Non-consensual sexual contact that can range from touching to rape. This is a felony with 25 years to life in prison, fines up to $25,000, and mandatory sex offender registration.
  • Child Molestation: Involves sexual activities with a minor. Penalties are 5 – 20 years or up to life in prison, fines up to $50,000, and mandatory sex offender registration.
  • Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor: An adult encouraging or assisting a minor in illegal activities. This is a misdemeanor with up to a year in county jail and fines up to $2,500.
  • Unlawful Sexual Conduct: Involves an adult engaging in sexual activities with a minor below the age of consent. This is a felony with 1 – 30 years in prison, fines $25,000, and mandatory sex offender registration.

When you break age of consent laws, you can get charged with all of these. 

After the investigation, the prosecutor decides which ones to charge you with. 

If you get charged with multiple of these, you will either: 

  • serve them concurrently (the sentences are served at the same time)
  • serve them consecutively (one sentence begins after another ends)

This depends on: 

  • the severity of the crime
  • your criminal history

How To Defend Against Age Of Consent Laws

Here are some of the most common defenses against breaking these laws. 

  • Lack of Knowledge: Claiming you didn’t know the person was underage, the minor lied about their age, or appeared to be older than they actually were.
  • Consent: Arguing that the minor agreed to the activity and was old enough to do so.
  • Mistaken Identity: Saying you’re not the person who committed the alleged offense.
  • Mistake of Fact: Claiming you genuinely believed the person was of legal age.

Note that these won’t always be a defense that gets you off the hook. 

They are just the most common defenses that get used.

Age Of Consent By State

The legal age of consent is different in every state. 

There is not a federal age of consent. 

The states get to decide this at the local level.

Age Of Consent By State - What Is Age Of Consent - What Does Age Of Consent Mean - Age Of Consent In Usa America - Age Of Consent In Each State
StateLegal Age Of Consent
New Hampshire16
New Jersey16
New Mexico17
New York17
North Carolina16
North Dakota18
Rhode Island16
South Carolina16
South Dakota16
West Virginia16

Note that local age of consent laws change. 

Don’t make any decisions that could impact your life based on this. 

Make sure you look up your state’s specific code for the age of consent laws.

FAQs About Age Of Consent In America

Here are other questions related to the age of consent in the USA.

Can Minors Get Married?

No, you have to be 18 years old to get married in the US without parental consent.

The only state where you cannot legally get married at 18 is Nebraska.

You have to be 19 years old to get married in Nebraska.

And you can get married at 15 years old in Mississippi without parental consent.

What State Has 14 Age Of Consent?

The following states have an age of consent of 14 years old. 

But, this is ONLY if the age restrictions in that state are met. 

Meaning, that the Romeo and Juliet laws in that state are met. 

  • California (3 year difference)
  • Delaware (4 year difference)
  • Florida (4 year difference)
  • Idaho (3 year difference)
  • North Dakota (3 year difference)
  • Oregon (3 year difference)
  • Tennessee (4 year difference)
  • Utah (3 year difference)

If you’re outside of this age range, you could face statutory rape charges.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Have Sex?

In the US, you have to be 16 – 18 years old to have sex. 

It depends on the state that you live in. 

Refer to the age of consent in each state in the table above for your state.

What State Has The Lowest Age Of Consent?

There are 30 states with an age of consent of 16 years old. 

This is the lowest age of consent without accounting for Romeo and Juliet laws.

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