This project explored the ways in which states attempt to regulate consensual adolescent sexual behavior through criminal law.
During in the summer of 2006, Dr. Nan Stein looked at the ways in which states attempt to regulate consensual adolescent sexual behavior through criminal law. Taking the lead in this effort was Summer B. Zeh (Wellesley College Class of 2004), a then rising second-year student at Boston University School of Law and one of only twelve Rappaport Fellows for 2006 (a competitive fellowship available to law students who show an interest in the intersection of public policy and law and who attend one of the six Boston area law schools).
Prosecuting teenagers for consensual sexual behavior can have far reaching consequences in young people's lives. For example, criminal charges can permanently disrupt an adolescent’s education, even if there is no finding of guilt later on. If there is a conviction, a youth can be required to register as a sex offender. Because prosecutors can't reach every teenager who violates these laws, they tend to make choices based on age or sometimes even race or socio-economic background. Moreover, there is an overwhelming trend to exempt some consensual teenager sexual behavior from criminal liability. Such exemptions most often include a close-in-age requirement, exempting teens from prosecution if they are within three or four years of age of their partners and the activity was mutually desired.
The goals of the research project were fourfold:
- Determine the existing research on the topic of criminal law and teen consensual sex;
- Identify the laws about age of consent and the trend to decriminalize some categories of consensual adolescent sexual activity;
- Identify and evaluate the arguments both in favor of and against creating exceptions to criminal liability for consensual adolescent sexual activity;
- Suggest areas for future research and public policy.
In the long-run, Stein and Zeh hope to encourage a close-in-age exemption for Massachusetts, which currently is one of a small number of states that do not have any such exemption. Furthermore they hope to propose model legislation for Massachusetts and will prepare articles for publication.