"Consensual Teenage Sex
Some of the sexual behaviors by youth that lead to a sex offense conviction and the application of sex offender laws do not involve the sort of acts or intent normally associated with criminal offenses. Most child behavior experts agree that sexual experimentation is a normal part of a young person’s development.250 Some of the youthful offenders who are currently required to register as sex offenders were exploring their sexuality, or engaging in other typical adolescent behavior such as genital play or consensual sexual intercourse.
According to a survey conducted by the US Department of Health and Welfare, by age 14, more than one-third of the survey’s respondents reported genital play with another youth under the age of 18, and about one-fifth had started having sexual intercourse.251 By age 16, over 40 percent of both sexes report intercourse, and that rises to 55 percent for both boys and girls at age 17.252 Child development experts agree that consensual sex play among children, including intercourse between teenagers, “is not psychologically harmful under ordinary circumstances and is probably a valuable psychosocial experience in developmental terms.”253
EEvery state in the United States criminalizes sexual activity with someone below the “age of consent,” a crime typically called “statutory rape.” Legislators have created “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions to these laws so as to lessen or eliminate criminal penalties for young people close in age who have non-coercive sex with each other. At least 39 states exclude at least some teenage voluntary sexual activity from the category of statutory rape, typically by either setting a minimum age for the defendant (for example, 16 or 17) and/or by specifying that there is no crime committed if the defendant is no more than a specified number of years older than the victim (typically between two and four years).
These exceptions still leave many teenagers at risk of being labeled as sex offenders for engaging in sexual conduct that is legal for adults. At least 28 states require registration as a sex offender for someone convicted of having consensual sex with another teenager, if the offender was either age 17 or two years older than the other party. In 11 states, there are no “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions; anyone who has sex with a person below the minimum age of consent is committing a crime and could, if convicted, be required to register as a sex offender.
During research for this report, Human Rights Watch spoke with or came across the stories of a number of men and women who because of consensual teenage sex with willing partners must now register as sex offenders—in some cases for life—and suffer all the adverse consequences that come with that status. For example, in Georgia, a 26-year-old married woman was made to register as a sex offender for life and had to move from her homebecause it falls within an area in which sex offenders are prohibited from living, because as a teenager she had oral sex with a willing fellow high school student when she was 17 and he was 15.254 It is difficult, if not impossible, to fathom what public safety purpose is served by subjecting her to registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws.
As one individual who was convicted of statutory rape at age 16 for having consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend told Human Rights Watch, “We were in love. And now we are married. So it’s like I am on the registry for having premarital sex. Does having premarital sex make me a danger to society? My wife doesn’t think so.”255 A mother of a young man from Texas who has to register for having consensual sex at age 19 with his 14-year-old girlfriend noted, “Our family has been devastated by this law that treats a young man in a consensual dating relationship the same as a violent rapist or a predator of young children.”256 "
In my reading here and elsewhere I see that minors convicted under statutory rape laws can now be made to register as sex offenders thus limiting where they can live, visit, attend school, work, etc.
As many in law enforcement and counselling themselves say, this is a major issue requiring attention.