What is the Age of Consent?

Young Couple

The age of consent is the legally defined age at which a person is deemed legally competent to consent to sexual activity. Any individual violating this law is open to prosecution under statutory rape laws.

For example: Jane and Jon are in a romantic relationship. The age of consent that applies to their location is age sixteen. If Jon is fifteen and Jane is twenty three, any sexual contact between them is considered statutory rape, regardless of whether or not it was consensual, and Jane can be criminally prosecuted. The individual whose age is below the age of consent is considered to be the victim, and their sexual partner whose age exceeds the age of consent is seen as the offender.

The age of consent can vary drastically vary depending on location, ranging from early adolescence to age twenty one. In certain locations, the age of consent also refers to the age in which an individual is seen as being competent enough to consent to marriage. In some cases, any sexual activity outside of marriage is completely illegal, and the age of consent is strictly the minimum age to consent to a marriage.

Violating the Age of Consent

Charges for violating age of consent laws can vary from a relatively light misdemeanor to full-on statutory rape and registration as a sex offender, which is seen as the legal equivalent to rape, and charged as such. As with every other aspect of the law, charges vary depending on the region. The age of the offender, the age of the victim, the context of the sexual activity, and what sexual acts were performed can all severely affect the punishment of the offender. In some places, legal defences can be used to combat prosecution, such as a reasonable lack of knowledge regarding the victim’s age. However, these defences are not available in all areas.

Certain situations can effect these laws. Many places around the world have a “close in age exemption”, meaning that a sexual act in which one or both partners are under the age of consent would not be considered criminal if the partners' age difference is within the limit set by the law. In addition, in some areas the age of consent is lowered or completely void if the sexual partners are married. On the other side of the fence, the age of consent can rise in certain scenarios, for instance if the older party has authority over the younger (a teacher, therapist, etc.).

Age of Consent Laws Worldwide

In some areas, most prominently in less developed countries, the age of consent can be a very gray area, and violations may not taken seriously. Some locations do not site a specific age of consent, leaving it more open to interpretation than the countries with more concrete laws.

Some locations have several different ages of consent. In some cases, this is due to males and females having entirely separate ages of consent. In addition, some places have a separate age of consent for female same sex activity and male same sex activity.

For example, in Indonesia the age of consent is nineteen for male heterosexual sexual activity, sixteen for female heterosexual sexual activity, and eighteen for any homosexual sexual activity. In some cases, any homosexual sexual activity or behaviour is illegal and seen as a crime. However in the vast majority of jurisdictions, the age of consent is the same for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

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