Q: What distinguishes “statutory” rape from “forcible” rape?
A: Our criminal statutes distinguish “forcible” rape from “statutory” rape. “Forcible rape,” as you would expect, is “vaginal intercourse” which is achieved “by force” or “against the will of” the victim. “Statutory rape” does not depend on force or consent at all. Sexual acts that violate “statutory” rape and sex offense laws involve young people and older people or two people that have a special relationship, such as teacher and student.
Q: What criminal statutes does North Carolina have that apply to age-based statutory rape and sexual assault?
It can be difficult to determine whether a sexual act is a statutory offense. It can be even more difficult to determine which statute the act has violated. If a criminal case is pursued, the district attorney handling the case can tell you which charges are appropriate. Here are the age-based statutes concerning statutory rape.
§ 14-27.24 – First-degree statutory rape
– When one person, who is at least 12 years old and four years older than the victim, engages in vaginal intercourse with a victim under 13 years old. (Example: two people aged 17 and 12)
Statutory rape offense charges by age of the parties. The B1 and C markers denote the felony level of the charges. The punishments for these are determined by NC structured sentencing guidelines.
Q: What about sexual acts aside from “vaginal intercourse”? Are those covered by statutory sexual assault laws as well?
A: Yes. The criminal statutes that cover statutory sex crimes are similar to those that describe forcible sex crimes in the way they separate “rape” from “sexual offense.” There is a separate offense of “forcible rape” for vaginal intercourse by force and against the will of a person and an offense “forcible sexual offense” for all other penetrative sexual assaults. The same is true for statutory crimes. For example, “Statutory rape of a child by an adult” involves vaginal intercourse of a person over 18 and a person under 13, while “Statutory sexual offense of a child by an adult” covers other sexual acts between people of the same age.
Here are the statutes that cover statutory sexual offenses:
§ 14-27.29 – First-degree statutory sexual offense
– When a person who is at least 12 years old and more than 4 years older than the victim engages in a sexual act with a victim under the age of 13 years old.
Statutory Sex Offense charges using age of both parties
Q: What does “age of consent” mean, and what is the “age of consent” in North Carolina?
A: An “age of consent” is the age at which they cannot be a party to a sexual act that is considered statutory rape or statutory sexual offense based on age alone. In North Carolina, the “age of consent” is 16 years old. This means that on their 16th birthday, a person is a “legal” sex partner for anyone over the age of 16.
Q: What if the younger party agrees/consents to have sex with the older party?
A: For statutory sex offenses, consent is not a defense. The older party may still be charged even if the younger party agreed or consented to the sexual activity.
Q: What if the older party didn’t know the younger party’s age?
A: Statutory rape and sex offense crimes are called “strict liability” crimes, meaning a defendant’s intent to commit the crime doesn’t really matter. In this context, it is enough that a person had sex with the underage party to violate the statute. This is true regardless of whether the person intended to have sex with an underage person, or even believed they were having sex with a person of a legal age.
Q: What about those statutory rape/sexual offense laws based on relationships?
A: We also have laws that prohibit sexual acts between, for example, school personnel and students and “substitute parents and guardians” and their children. They are:
§ 14-27.32 – Sexual activity with a student
– This covers teachers, school administrators, school safety officers, and coaches and students at the same school.
Q: Do you have any handouts that can simplify this a bit?
A: Yes, please refer to the chart below, which can be used to determine which charges may be applicable by using the two ages of the parties. Please call NCCASA or email Staff Attorney Joe Polich at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.