Most people consider rape to be a crime where the victim doesn’t consent to intercourse, but the word “rape” can also refer to the age of the person involved. This is called the statutory age of consent, and it is your responsibility to ensure that the person you’re having intercourse with has reached this age.
In the United States, the age of consent is legally defined as the minimum age at which a person is old enough to consent to sexual activity. Individuals under this minimum age are considered to be legally incapable of consenting to sexual activity.
An important thing to note about the age of consent is that it isn’t a single age that applies to every person in the United States. The age of consent actually differs between states. In some states, like New York, Tennessee and Iowa, the age of consent is 18. In others, like Texas and Idaho, it’s 17, and in Michigan, it’s 16. This means that if you live in Michigan, a 16-year-old is considered old enough to legally consent to sexual activity.
Are There Exceptions to the Age of Consent?
While in Michigan any person over the age of 16 is legally able to give consent, there are a number of exceptions that can still result in criminal charges. These exceptions include the following:
- Consent under influence: if the person giving consent is under the effects of drug or alcohol, the consent is not considered valid. This means that you can be legally charged if you have engaged in sexual activity with a person under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Fiducial relationships: this exception is taken into account when the sexual activity involves a perpetrator in a position of authority over the person giving consent. This relationship of authority can include a teacher/student, corrections officer/inmate, or employer/employee relationship.
- Familial relationships: if the two people engaging in sexual activity are related to the fourth degree, there is an exception to the age of consent and the individuals can be charged with a sex crime.
- The use of force or coercion: besides physical force or the threat thereof, there is also what is called “economic coercion,” where the perpetrator obtains consent by paying the other party. In Michigan, this isn’t considered simple solicitation and can actually result in a felony charge.
What Happens if You Violate the Age of Consent?
This is a crime known as statutory rape or third-degree criminal sexual conduct. In Michigan, if you engage in any type of sexual activity involving someone under the age of 16, you are violating the age of consent and can be convicted of a felony charge.
The penalties for criminal sexual conduct in Michigan are very severe and usually involve a period of prison time as well as expensive fines. All people convicted of criminal sexual conduct are monitored for the rest of their lives and must register as sex offenders, which has a huge impact on the rest of their lives.
In addition to statutory rape, there is also the crime of engaging in sexual penetration of a person below the age of 13, which carries a minimum sentence of 25 years, though sentences are usually much harsher.
What’s important to note about Michigan is that sexual activity isn’t confined to just the sex act. Even touching over clothing can be enough to convict a person of criminal sexual activity, if found to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.
What happens if you made an honest mistake and believed the person you had intercourse with was above the age of consent? In Michigan and many other states, a mistake is not a valid defense, and you will still be prosecuted for criminal sexual activity. This rule even applies if the underage party lied to you and told you they were older.
The Relative Age Rule
In many other states, it’s legal for two underage people to engage in consenting sexual activity as long as the partners are of similar age. In Michigan, this isn’t the case, and the age of consent is an absolute. What this means is that any person who has sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16 is committing a crime, no matter how close they are to their partner’s age. Even two 15 year olds who engage in sexual activity are committing a crime according to the Michigan law.
Legal Penalties for Violating the Age of Consent
Michigan has some of the most severe laws regarding statutory rape and thus also has some of the harshest sentencing when it comes to the violation of the age of consent. There’s no tolerance or leeway given to people who have violated the age of consent with regards to relative ages or whether the person knew the age of the victim.
The legal penalties for a third-degree criminal sexual activity conviction include the following:
- Prison time
- Hefty fines
- A permanent criminal record
- Sex offender registration detailing the crime
These penalties are often accompanied by a severe social stigma of being labeled as a sex offender. This can prohibit you from being able to obtain a job and will severely limit the areas in which you can live.
What You Should Do if You’re Charged with Violating the Age of Consent
Your first step should always be to hire an experienced lawyer who has dealt with such cases before. Any case involving sexual activity with a minor is emotionally fraught, and the consequences of a conviction are life-altering. A good lawyer will be able to assess your case and provide you with a strategy to protect your rights and make sure you are treated fairly.
Even if your case goes all the way to trial, you shouldn’t lose hope. Remember that you’re presumed innocent, and it’s the prosecution’s job to prove your guilt. By working with an experienced trial attorney, you can increase the likelihood that you’ll get the best possible outcome for your case.