I recently read a story about a 19 years old boy sentenced to jail and to be registered as a sex offender for 25 years for having sex with a 14 year old girl who lied about her age. The girl and her mother testified on behalf of the accused, saying that the sex was consensual and that she told him she was 17. Unfortunately, that didn't matter.

I read that if she showed him a fake ID so well done it's impossible to discern from a real ID, that wouldn't have mattered either. I also read that even with notarised written statements you will still be found guilty. (Curiously enough the reverse, ie propositioning sex to a person who is over the age of consent but lies saying they're younger, is also illegal)

Radiocarbon dating for samples less than 100 years old is so unreliable it's basically useless. Even if the person looks very old, there are certain diseases that cause rapid ageing so they potentially are underage.

With all that in mind, is there any way to have sex on US soil without running the risk of being labeled a sex offender?

  • 1
    Can you provide a reference backing up what you read (your second paragraph) saying that a good-faith/reasonable effort to verify someone's age is not a safe harbor against statutory rape? That does not sound correct, and that seems to be the core of your question.
    – feetwet
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 11:26
  • 1
    @feetwet: well, the news articles such as this one (but there are many others as this is a high profile case) say "Due to the girl's age, officials had no choice but to arrest and charge Zach with criminal sexual conduct - despite the victim admitting to police that she had deliberately lied about her age". Do you think his actions are legal? If yes why did they arrest him, why did they prosecute him, why was he advised to plead guilty and especially why no one mentioned this fact in all the uproar that followed?
    – LaTrAt
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 11:36
  • 1
    No, his actions were illegal, which is why he was prosecuted. However, if he had made a reasonable effort to verify her age my expectation (though I don't know the law on this) is that would have been an absolute defense against the charge of statutory rape. Maybe he did, and that's why he was advised to plead guilty, and the outrage is that the judge disregarded that defense. In which case his conviction will be overturned on appeal. Or maybe he didn't, and his counsel was expecting leniency but didn't get it. But without a reference on your assertion there's no question here.
    – feetwet
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 12:02
  • 10
    By the way, radiocarbon dating is only effective on dead things.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 18:37
  • 10
    Sex with yourself remains legal when done in private.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 0:01

1 Answer 1


In many US states (and in the UK), statutory rape is a strict liability offense. This means that there is no intent requirement at all; the only allowable defenses are those that negate the actual act (there was no sex, the person was of age, or sometimes that the action was not a conscious or voluntary action), it falls within a statutory exception to the crime, or there is an applicable defense that has nothing to do with intent. Many general defenses do not apply to strict liability crimes; in particular, "I thought X when Y was true" tries to show there was to intent to commit the crime, which is irrelevant.

In Michigan (where the crime took place), statutory rape is evidently such an offense. That throws some standard defenses into doubt, because anything based on negating criminal intent doesn't matter. However, Michigan does specifically say that it is not criminal to have sex with a person under 16 if they are your legal spouse; this is a very common exception to statutory rape laws. So, marriage is a way to not risk jail for statutory rape in Michigan.

However, things do vary by state. In Indiana, it is specifically a defense that the defendant had a reasonable belief that the victim was over the age of consent (unless it was a forcible rape).

  • 4
    Can somebody under 16 be married in Michigan?
    – Ken Sharp
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 20:51
  • 3
    @KenSharp In special cases, and with court approval, yes (under the provision of the laws allowing for secret marriage). From what I can tell, court approval is quite rare (googling suggests it was most often given when the girl is pregnant, but in that case you did things in the wrong order to avoid statutory rape laws).
    – cpast
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 23:04
  • 3
    @cpast Don't states generally acknowledge each other's marriages, though? So, you wouldn't necessarily have to get married in MI, just some place whose marriages are recognized by MI, right?
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 17:57
  • 1
    It's not uncommon for Statutory Rape laws to have an exception for cases where the two participants are both under-aged to avoid this. Usually there is some window between the ages. There may also be an exception for when on participant is 18 and the other is 17 as by rules as written, that would count, though only the staunchest anti-teen sex advocate would say it's inappropriate. All that said, it looks like MI didn't think about this when they wrote their laws on the matter.
    – hszmv
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 18:12
  • 2
    @reirab Yes. Furthermore, according to international treaties (to which most countries including the U. S. are signatories), countries must acknowledge each others' lawful marriages and not discriminate against "foreign" marriages. (Some countries develop interesting new laws that try to tackle the issue of forced marriages. Most of them allow the state to challenge the vailidity of foreign marriages that do not meet some standard of consent from both spouses. Country A can divorce marriages from country B even if country B does not aknowledge those divorces.) Commented May 1, 2021 at 3:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .