Like everyone else living in New England, I could not avoid the exhaustive media coverage of the St. Paul School rape trial. From a legal perspective, there was nothing sensational about this case: a 15 year old student claimed that she had been forcibly raped by a senior at her school. The senior claimed that they fooled around but never had sex and the jury ultimately ruled that statutory rape (but not forcible rape) had been committed. The media frenzy was due to the fact that the involved individuals were students at an elite prep school. As the headlines clogged every local news source, I found myself thinking about how many of my young clients accused of sexual assault have numerous false assumptions about consent as it applies to sexual encounters. This post will cover the legal aspects of consent that I wish that my clients had known before they found themselves in need of my representation. I encourage you to share this information with young people in your life so that they can make informed decisions.
Age of consent.
Having sex with an underage person in Massachusetts can lead to a conviction for “Rape of a Child.” While some states have a separate crime of statutory rape for when the underage person is close to the age of consent, Massachusetts does not offer such a distinction. This means that an 18 year old convicted of having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend would have a conviction of “Rape of a Child” on his record.
Most young people are aware that there is a minimum age required to consent to sexual intercourse. Many even know that the age of consent in Massachusetts is 16. What they don’t know is the legal definition of sexual intercourse for the rape statute: sexual intercourse is defined as penetration of the victim, no matter how slight, and such penetration can be penile, oral, or digital (fingers). If the alleged rape involves oral sex, the underage person has been raped by law regardless of whether he or she performed the sexual act or was the recipient. When the alleged rape involves the stimulation of the vagina, no penetration into the vaginal opening is necessary; touching the labia or vulva of the vagina is rape under Massachusetts law.