Research shows that teenage girls tend to have their first sexual experience with male partners who are three or more years older.In one study, researchers discovered that girls who’d had an older boyfriend by seventh grade were twice as likely to have had sex by ninth grade as girls who’d had a same-age boyfriend by seventh grade.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.“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.One particularly shocking case drew international attention when 17-year-old Georgia resident, Genarlow Wilson, was charged with aggravated child molestation and sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl.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.
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.
She claimed it was rape, he claimed it was consensual, and a jury acquitted him of the charges.
However, because of their age difference, the jury still found Dixon guilty of statutory rape and aggravated child molestation, and sentenced him to a mandatory 10 years in prison under Georgia law.
Only 12 states set a specific age (ranging from 16 to 18), while in the majority of states, the age of consent depends on multiple factors, including the ages of each partner and the number of years between them.
The purpose behind most statutory rape laws is to punish grown adults who take sexual advantage of a minor.
Georgia law, which has since been changed to classify this act as a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of one year in prison, also required Wilson to register as a sex offender when he was released.