Statutory Rape In Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Legislature has enacted a number of laws relating to sexual abuse and sexual molestation against underage victims. There are several Massachusetts rape and sexual assault laws, but exactly what does “statutory rape” mean? Most people think they know the correct answer (“Sex with an underage girl”), while the truth is, most people are wrong about that. They’re wrong, because most people don’t know what: A) The word “sex” means legally; B) What “underage” means in Massachusetts; and C) The fact that an alleged victim is not limited to being a girl.

First, though, most people don’t know what “statutory” means. It refers to the fact that the prohibited act is defined by the Legislature, not the courts. Laws can come from a variety of different sources, including the courts. These types of laws are called “decisional law” or common law. “Statutory” means that the law came from an act of the Legislature, who defined what “rape” in this instance is. The relevant statute in Massachusetts is M.G.L. Ch. 265, Sec. 23-23B, which defines statutory rape as follows:

“Whoever unlawfully has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse, and abuses a child under 16 years of age, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for any term of years or, except as otherwise provided, for any term in a jail or house of correction. A prosecution commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file.”

Note four important elements: 1) That the use of force is not described or required, nor any lack of consent. In other words, the alleged victim could theoretically have fully consented to the act, and the crime still occurs; 2) The age of the defendant is not described, nor gender. This means that the alleged defendant could have been the same age as the alleged victim, older, or even younger, and as long as the prohibited act occurred, it is a crime. Also, the alleged defendant could have been the same sex as the alleged victim and a crime still would have occurred; 3) The gender of the alleged victim is not limited to being female. Boys can also be alleged victims of Massachusetts statutory rape, whether the defendant is man or a woman; 4) The prohibited act is with a “child”, defined as being “under the age of 16.” Note the final sentence of the statute: “A prosecution commenced under this section shall neither be continued without a finding nor placed on file.” This denotes the seriousness that the Legislature attaches to this offense, and it means that the charge is not subject to negotiation down to a “CWOF”. In defending these cases, these charges must be dropped, admitted to, or the case tried to a verdict (before either a judge or jury.) Hence, these are the combination of mistakes that most people make when they hear the words “statutory rape.”

While statutory rape is typically the charge that is brought forward when the sex with the alleged victim was or appears to have been consensual and when the alleged victim is under the age of 16, there are, of course, other laws addressing sex with a “minor” – a person under the age of 18. M.G.L. Ch. 272, Sec. 4 defines this crime: “Whoever induces any person under 18 years of age of chaste life to have unlawful sexual intercourse shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in a jail or house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by both such fine and imprisonment.” This statute criminalizes sexual intercourse with anyone under the age of 18, and excepting the age difference, is similar to the statutory rape offense, in that it does not mention force or threats or force (hence it criminalizes the act even if consent was present.) Actually, there is another legal vehicle available to the Commonwealth to prosecute these kinds of cases which in my view as a Dedham Massachusetts sex offense lawyer is more appropriate, and that is known as “Contributing to the delinquency of a minor”, proscribed by M.G.L. Chapter 119, Sec. 63. This statute provides for lesser penalties, and removes the stigma of the charge being categorized as a sex offense. The importance of this is that any conviction or guilty plea involving a sex offense will trigger sex offender registration and reporting requirements.

So as you can see, even high school dating relationships can bring drastic legal consequences. Translation: Parents, educate your kids under the age of 18 regarding not only the science and health issues regarding sexual activity, but the potential legal consequences as well.

Our law firm is very experienced when it comes to defending not only statutory rape charges, but all forms of Massachusetts rape and sexual assault charges. If you or someone you know is potentially facing these kinds of legal charges, contact us for a free legal consultation. We can guide you to the best legal outcome possible. Don’t take chances with a firm that handles these types of cases only “now and again”. Your future or the future of the person you care about is too important to risk.

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