How Age of Consent Works

Age of consent laws strives to create equilibrium between defending children and youths from abuse and other harms and safeguarding their right to privacy and healthy sexual development. Accordingly, an adult engaging in sexual activity with a person younger than the age of consent cannot legally claim that the sexual activity was concerted; such sexual activity is child sexual abuse or statutory rape. The individual below the minimum age of consent is considered the victim, and the sex partner the offender. The only exception is if both are below the minimum age of consent.

In legal statutes, the term 'age of consent' is seldom present. However, a law states the age below which it is illicit to engage in sexual activities with that individual. You should not mistake age of consent with other laws regarding age minimums, including but not limited to age of criminal responsibility, voting age, drinking age, and driving age. Age of consent laws vary widely across the globe, though most jurisdictions set the age range from fourteen to eighteen.

The laws may also vary by the forms of sexual activity, the sex of the people involved, or other contemplations similarly involving a position of trust. Many jurisdictions may also grant consent for minors engaged in sexual activities with each other rather than a single age. The penalties for breaching these laws range from a misdemeanor or corruption of a minor to statutory rape. There are various grey areas in this area of law, making the age of consent often confusing and a topic of high debate.

Example of Age of Consent

Worldwide, the age of consent varies between continents, countries, states, and even cities. Every city has statutory rape laws, though the distinct definitions and penalties differ broadly. The term 'statutory rape' does not only refer to forced sexual acts or coercion; however, the involvement in sexual activities with an individual below the minimum age of consent.

Let's assume that under federal law, the legal age of consent is between twelve and sixteen years. Engaging in sex with a minor is a crime. These laws would mean that a seventeen-year-old boy engaging in sexual acts with a thirteen-year-old girl is illegal. However, if the girl were fifteen years old, it would be perfectly acceptable.

Each jurisdiction takes a marginally different approach to ascertaining the age of consent, which has a definite age ranging from ten to eighteen years. Various states regard the relative ages of the individuals involved.

History of the Age of Consent

Historically, society's accepted consenting age for marriage and sexual activity is a decision made by the individual's family. Before the 12th century, the concept of childhood was not a term approved by society. Infants were perceived as miniature adults and expected to take on adult roles. Ancient cultures commonly accepted the dawning of puberty as a signal to show that the individual, whether boy or girl, was prepared for marriage.

In England in 1275, the first written age of consent law was founded by historians. It became illegal by the Westminster first statute to "ravish" a lady younger than the age of marriage, with or without her consent. By that time, the accepted age of marriage was twelve years. Christianity also made it clear that they banned sexual relations outside marriage.

Children were held responsible and hence punished for consenting to sexual activities with an adult. Initially, the American colonists followed the English tradition, which commonly acknowledged marriage at ages as young as nine. Enforcing consent laws based on the participants' specific ages was not common until the 19th century because there was no proof of age.