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The statutory rape laws vary greatly from state to state, with more than half of the states setting the legal age of consent at 16 (other states range from 14 to 18).For the most part, there is no single age at which a person can consent to sexual activity.Until recently, statutory rape laws applied only to females, ignoring situations involving sex between an adult female and underage male.

Because the laws weren’t intended to punish two individuals close in age who engage in consensual sex, in many jurisdictions, an adult who is two or three years older than the minor will not be charged with statutory rape, or will be penalized less severely than a much older adult.

These so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws provide defenses and reduced penalties in cases where the couple is relatively close in age.

In May 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned Dixon’s conviction, stating that he should’ve been prosecuted on the lesser charge of misdemeanor statutory rape, which carries a maximum sentence of one year.

He walked out of prison on May 3, 2004, at age 19, a free man.

Whether you agree with this outcome or not, the fact remains that statutory rape is considered a serious crime, enforceable to the full extent of the law in many states – and can change the course of a teenager’s life forever.

A Hot Topic Among Teens The recent discovery that 16-year-old actress Jamie Lynn Spears, the sister of pop star Britney Spears, became pregnant by her 18-year-old boyfriend has again turned consensual sex among teens into a hotly contested issue.Your 18-year-old son is dating a 16-year-old female classmate – no big deal, right?A two-year age difference isn’t particularly alarming, and dating is fairly standard at that age.But if these teens are having sex, and you live in a state where prosecutors aggressively enforce the law, it’s possible that your son could be charged with statutory rape.Take, for example, the widely publicized case of Marcus Dwayne Dixon, an 18-year-old high school honor student and star football player who had sex with a 15-year-old female classmate.“In many cases, they are enforced largely by how angry the parents of the younger party are.” In some states, offenders have spent years in prison for statutory rape in situations similar to Jamie Lynn Spears’ while other states have prosecuted only egregious crimes.