According to Pew Research, a whopping “35% of teens have some experience with dating or romantic relationships”. That is a vast number of young people engaging in romantic and sexual relations in the U.S. every day.
However, did you know that some of these relationships can come with legal consequences? Although it may not seem like a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old dating can be illegal, it’s possible. That’s because the U.S. has stringent statutory rape laws.
Unfortunately, these laws can sometimes be somewhat murky or difficult to understand since they’re rife with exceptions and technicalities, which is exactly why we’ve written this helpful guide to understanding the age of consent.
What Does Age Of Consent Mean?
Generally speaking, “age of consent” is a term used to describe the minimum age someone has to be for their consent to be considered legally valid. In this case, by “consent,” we specifically mean consent to sexual acts or intercourse.
Even in this definition, however, there can be a significant amount of ambiguity, so let’s unpack this term a little more.
For starters, just because someone is at the “age of consent” does not necessarily mean that you can proceed with sexual relations. In addition to meeting the legal age, they must also give you consent. Any sexual intercourse without consent is a crime, regardless of age.
Next, it’s important to clarify that even if someone meets the age and consent requirement, you may still not be able to engage in a sexual relationship with them if the relationship falls into the category of “institutional sexual assault.” We’ll unpack this a little more later, but keep this term in mind.
Age Of Consent In Pennsylvania
Each U.S. state has its own set of laws and requirements when it comes to the age of consent. In the state of Philadelphia, the general age of consent is 16. This means that consent from anyone aged 16 or older is typically considered legally valid.
According to PCAR (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape), “teens between the ages of 13 and 15 cannot consent to sexual activity with anyone who is four or more years older than them”. This does mean, however, that two teenagers over the age of 13 may be allowed to have a sexual relationship. This is called a “Romeo and Juliet” exception and exists solely to protect minors that wish to engage in a consensual sexual relationship with others close to their own age.
Institutional Sexual Assault
Another important exception to be aware of are relationships that have a power imbalance. The state of Pennsylvania recognizes that “power imbalances in certain relationships make consent impossible, regardless of age” (PCAR). This is incredibly important to know because it means that you could be engaging in an unlawful sexual relationship regardless of the age of those involved.
For example, sexual activity between an employee of a:
- Group Home
- Mental Health Facility
- Correctional Facility or Jail
…and someone under their care is likely to be considered institutional sexual assault.
Please keep in mind that this is not a complete list. If you are unsure whether or not a sexual relationship with an individual is legal, the best thing to do is consult a lawyer.
Federal Age Of Consent
Now, the next thing to understand is that although individual states have their own legal age requirements, so does the U.S. federal government. The federal age of consent is 18.
This age requirement applies specifically to sexual intercourse while traveling outside of your state. For example, if two people from the state of Georgia were to travel to another state specifically for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity, they would be subject to federal laws.
Why Does Age Of Consent Matter?
Age of consent is incredibly important not just for the safety and respect of others but because of the possible legal consequences of having sexual activity with a minor. Please keep in mind that although consent is necessary for any sexual activity, that alone does not make an act legal. The best thing to do is consult with a lawyer regarding the age of consent laws in your state.
According to federalcharges.com, the punishment for statutory rape often includes “prison sentences of at least one year.” Please keep in mind that one year is on the lower end of the punishment. In many cases, the sentence for statutory rape can be significantly more severe and can also include a monetary fine.
Even with full consent from the other party, figuring out whether a relationship is legal can be somewhat tricky. It’s always best to ask a lawyer before moving forward with sexual activity that you’re unsure about. Punishment for institutional or statutory rape is swift and harsh, regardless of whether or not you were aware of the possible consequences. Remember that someone who is incapacitated or under your care cannot give consent.
Aside from legal concerns, however, it’s generally a good idea to be careful about engaging in sexual activity with others. Try to get verbal confirmation before moving forward with sexual activity with another person.
Answers To Common Questions
We hope this article helped you get a better understanding of the age of consent in Pennsylvania. Just in case, however, we’ve included a couple more answers to commonly asked questions:
What Does Age Of Consent Mean?
The age of consent is the minimum age at which someone in the U.S. can give their legal consent to sexual activity. Please keep in mind that this isn’t the only requirement for sexual activity to be legal. A significant power imbalance between two individuals, such as that between a teacher and student, may also make a sexual relationship illegal. Employees of other institutions such as mental facilities, jails, and group homes are subject to similar rules.
What Is The Age Of Consent?
Each state has its own age of consent and laws related to what constitutes statutory rape. For example, the age of consent in Pennsylvania is 16, but there are a few “Romeo and Juliet” type exceptions to this rule.
What Is The Age Of Consent In America?
The federal age of consent in the U.S. is 18. Most residents are, however, subject to the specific age of consent in their state, so it’s best to check with a lawyer regarding the laws in your state.
What Is The Lowest Age Of Consent?
The lowest age of consent in the U.S. is 16. However, this only applies to select states. It is also not a completely flat age of consent since many states have specific rules and exceptions based on the age difference of the two people engaging in sexual activity.
Cochran Firm Philadelphia
We hope that this article helped answer some of your questions regarding the age of consent in Pennsylvania. If you still have some questions, please feel free to reach out to our firm. Our firm does also feature a variety of informational blogs on our website, so feel free to check those out as well.
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