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Ages of consent in the united states

The meaning of «ages of consent in the united states»

In the United States, age of consent laws regarding sexual activity are made at the state level. There are several federal statutes related to protecting minors from sexual predators, but laws regarding specific age requirements for sexual consent are left to individual states, District of Columbia, and territories. Depending on the jurisdiction, the legal age of consent is between 16 and 18. In some places, civil and criminal laws within the same state conflict with each other.[1]

Different jurisdictions express these definitions differently, like Argentina, may say the age of consent is 18, but an exception is made down to 13 years of age, if the older partner is not in a position of authority over the younger one. The data below reflects what each jurisdiction's legislation actually means, rather than what it states on the surface.

While the general ages of consent are now set between 16 and 18 in all U.S. states, the age of consent has widely varied across the country in the past. In 1880, the ages of consent were set at 10 or 12 in most states, with the exception of Delaware where it was 7.[105] The ages of consent were raised across the U.S. during the late 19th century and the early 20th century.[106][107] By 1920, 26 states had an age of consent at 16, 21 states had an age of consent at 18, and one state (Georgia) had an age of consent at 14.[105] Small adjustments to these laws occurred after 1920. The last 2 states to raise its age of general consent from under 16 to 16 or higher were Georgia, which raised the age of consent from 14 to 16 in 1995,[108] and Hawaii, which changed it from 14 to 16 in 2001.[109]

Age-of-consent laws were historically only applied when a female was younger than her male partner. By 2015 ages of consent were made gender-symmetric.[109] Until the late 20th century many states had provisions requiring that the teenage girl must be of previous "chaste character" in order for the sexual conduct to be considered criminal. In 1998 Mississippi became the last state to remove this provision from its code.[110]

The laws were designed to prosecute people far older than the victims rather than teenagers close in age; therefore prosecutors rarely pursued teenagers in relationships with other teenagers even though the wordings of the laws made some close-in-age teenage relationships illegal. After the 1995 Landry and Forrest study concluded that men aged 20 and older produced half of the teenage pregnancies of girls between 15 and 17, states began to more stringently enforce age-of-consent laws to combat teenage pregnancy in addition to prevent adults from taking advantage of minors.[111]

A backlash among the public occurred when some teenagers engaging in close-in-age relationships received punishments perceived by the public to be disproportionate,[112] and thus age-gap provisions were installed to reduce or eliminate penalties if the two parties are close in age.[113] Brittany Logino Smith and Glen A. Kercher of the Criminal Justice Center of Sam Houston State University wrote that these laws are often referred to as "Romeo and Juliet laws", though they defined Romeo and Juliet as only referring to an affirmative defense against prosecution.[114] Previously some of these statutes only applied to heterosexual sex, leaving homosexual sex in the same age range open to prosecution.[115]

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