What would we do with Romeo and Juliet? Some say that teenagers today are becoming sexually active at a younger age. Parents of sexually active teenagers face problems such as teen pregnancy, STDs, or, in some cases, their son or daughter facing criminal charges for statutory rape. Whoa, whoa, whoa, criminal charges? Yes, teenagers could face statutory rape charges for consensual sex with their teenage girlfriend or boyfriend, depending on the state law's age of consent. But is this "crime" what prosecutors should be spending their resources on? Perhaps yes, considering the substantial effects teen sex has on the individual and society. Perhaps no, considering teens have been having sex throughout history, and maybe these prosecutions are just an attempt to discourage premarital sex.
One concern is that the prosecution of teens, specifically boys, can be a form of discrimination. The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts held that a 14 year old boy has a constitutional right to determine if the District Attorney discriminates against boys in the statutory rape prosecutions. Another concern is the lifelong effects of being labeled a sex offender (and having to register as a sex offender) for having "consensual" sex when the person (male teen) is so young when the "offense" occurred.
Whatever the motive for prosecuting teens for having sex with other teens, state legislators have considered reforming statutory rape laws. The Vermont legislature recently struck down a bill that would have relaxed the statutory rape law so that a 13 year old could have consented to having sex, so long as his/her partner's age is within 4 years. The current law allows a 15 year old to consent so long as his/her partner's age is within 3 years.
Teens face enough challenges without having to face the criminal justice system for hooking up with their lab partner. While the consequences of teen sex can be great, having a criminal record or being labeled a sex offender are not consequences that should be added. Preventing the problem of teen sex starts at home. Dealing with the consequences of teen sex also begins at home. But the ultimate consequence should not be handed down by the justice system.