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True or false? Statutory rape refers to any sexual act involving a person under the age of consent.

False. Firstly, New Jersey law does not use the term “statutory rape.” Lawyers, judges and legislators don’t use the term “statutory rape” much at all. The term originated to refer to sexual contact that is not overtly coerced but that occurs between a person over the age of consent and another who is under the age of consent. New Jersey’s law is much more complicated than that.

The law distinguishes between “sexual penetration” and “sexual contact,” which are pretty self-explanatory terms. The law also distinguishes among different age ranges. For example:

  • It is aggravated sexual assault if a person commits an act of sexual penetration with any person under age 13, regardless of the age of the perpetrator. In other words, it is illegal under New Jersey law for anyone to have penetrative sex with anyone younger than 13.
  • It is not a criminal act if a person commits an act of sexual contact with a person who is less than 13 years old if the perpetrator is no more than three years older than the “victim.” In other words, it is not illegal for a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old to engage in what adults of previous generations used to call “heavy petting.” A 12-year-old and a 16-year-old, however-illegal.
  • It is sexual assault if a person commits an act of sexual penetration with a person who is between the ages of 13 and 15 and the perpetrator is at least four years older. 15 years old and 19 years old-illegal. 15 years old and 18 years old-legal.

“Statutory rape” is a term that can be thrown around in heated arguments between parents of teenagers engaging in consensual sexual conduct. Make sure you and your teenage children understand the laws, and fight back if you or your teenage child is wrongly accused of so-called statutory rape.

You can read the actual text of New Jersey’s “statutory rape” law here: N.J. Rev. Stat. Sec. 2C:14-2.


Don’t hesitate to contact Mallon & Tranger in Somerville, New Jersey, for a free consultation if you are seeking a criminal defense lawyer after a charge of sexual assault involving teenagers.