Statutory Rape

Publication Date:

Dec 28, 2018

Key facts about statutory rape

  • The percentage of female teens ages 18 to 24 who report they first had sex at age 15 or younger with a partner at least three years older (our broad criteria for “statutory rape”) declined from 2002 to 2013–2015, from 14 to 8 percent; there were no substantial changes among their male peers (6 percent in 2002 and 5 percent in 2013–2015).
  • In 2013–2015, both male and female youth residing in families with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 were less likely than their peers in other family types to report that their first sexual encounter met our criteria for statutory rape (3 and 4 percent, respectively, for males and females with two biological or adoptive parents, compared to at least 10 percent for teens in other family types).
  • In 2013–2015, females age 13 or younger at first sex were most likely to report that their sexual experience was with a partner who was three or more years older (69 percent), compared with those who were age 15 at first sex (20 percent); the pattern was similar among males (23 and 18 percent, respectively, for males ages 13 or younger and age 15 at first sex).

Trends in statutory rape

The percentage of females ages 18 to 24 who first had sex at age 15 or younger with a sexual partner at least three years older (our criteria for statutory rape) declined from 14 percent in 2002 to 8 percent in 2013–2015. Among males, the corresponding decline was from 6 to 5 percent from 2002 to 2013–2015 (Appendix 1).

Among males whose first sexual experience was before age 16, the proportion for whom their partner was at least three years older remained fairly constant from 2002 to 20062010 (from 20 to 22 percent), before falling to 18 percent in 2013–2015. Among females, this proportion increased from 1995 to 2002, from 46 to 53 percent (although some of the change may reflect the fact that, in 1995, the survey wording referred only to “voluntary” sexual partners). The proportion then decreased from 2002 to 2013–2015, to 34 percent (Appendix 2).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin*

In 2013–2015, 7 percent of both non-Hispanic white and Hispanic females reported that their first sexual encounter met these criteria for statutory rape, compared to 12 percent of non-Hispanic black females. Among non-Hispanic white males, 4 percent reported that their first sexual encounter was statutory rape, compared with 5 percent of non-Hispanic black and 7 percent of Hispanic males (Appendix 1).

*Hispanic teens may be of any race.

Differences by family structure

Male and female youth residing in a family with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 were less likely than their peers in other family types to report that their first sexual encounter met our criteria for statutory rape. Among young males in 2013–2015, 3 percent of those who lived with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 reported a statutory rape as their first sexual experience, compared with 10 percent of males who lived with a single parent. Among females, 4 percent of those living with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 reported that they experienced a statutory rape as their first sexual experience, compared with 18 percent of females in families with other structures (Appendix 1).

In 2013–2015, youth whose mothers had their first child before age 20 were around twice as likely to report first sex at a young age with an older partner, relative to youth whose mothers had their first child at later ages (Appendix 1).

Differences by maternal education

Among females, those whose mothers had higher educational attainment were less likely to report statutory rape as their first sexual experience. In 2013–2015, 6 percent of females whose mothers received some college education reported that their first sexual experience met our criteria for statutory rape, compared with 11 percent of those whose mother did not have a high school diploma and 8 percent of those whose mother had only a high school diploma or GED. In previous years, females whose mother had at least a college degree have been the least likely to report statutory rape as their first sexual experience. However, in 2013–2015, the figure for this group was 9 percent, the second highest among all maternal education groups. For males in 2013–2015, the incidence of statutory rape by maternal education status followed a similar pattern as among females, although estimates are unreliable and therefore not reported for the “bachelor’s degree or higher” category (Appendix 1).

Differences by age at first sex

Among those whose first sexual experience was before age 16, younger teens were most likely to report their sexual experience as statutory rape. Overall, in 2013–2015, 18 percent of males and 34 percent of females who had sexual intercourse before age 16 reported that their partner was at least three years older than them. Among males, the percentages reporting that statutory rape first occurred at ages 13 or younger, age 14, or age 15 were 23,14, and 18 percent, respectively. Among females, the corresponding percentages were 69, 37, and 20 percent, respectively (Appendix 2).

Background

Definition

For this indicator, “statutory rape” is defined as a first sexual intercourse among young teens (ages 15 or younger) that occurred with someone who was at least three years older. All references to sexual intercourse refer to heterosexual intercourse only. Analyses were conducted on data collected from 18- to 24-year-old males and females participating in the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) who provided retrospective information on their age of first sexual intercourse and the age of their first sexual partner.

Each state defines what constitutes illegal sexual relations with a minor. Individual states set a minimum age at which individuals can consent legally to sexual intercourse, regardless of the age of the individual with whom they are having sex. In 2004, the minimum age of consent for 34 states was 16. In 2004, 38 states and the District of Columbia also included language about age differences, the minimum age of the minor, and/or the minimum age of the defendant (in prosecuted cases). Those states that include age-difference limits most often set these between two and five years. Check state government websites for the most up-to-date information on state-specific laws.

Suggested citation

Child Trends Databank. (2018). Statutory rape: Sex between young teens and older individuals. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=statutory-rape-sex-between-young-teens-and-older-individuals