While it isn’t uncommon to use the term “rape” as a catch-all for numerous offenses, it’s also true that there are subtleties you’d do well to observe. In particular, experts like statutory rape defense attorneys Stein & Markus point out, is the difference between rape and statutory rape. Both are crimes, but there’s a definite distinction between the two. Here’s what you need to know.
Rape v. Statutory Rape
First, let’s look at the definition of rape. Most sources agree that rape requires sexual intercourse to be non-consensual. When it is committed through force, fear, intimidation and threats, that is known as forcible rape.
Rape laws in some states may define rape as occurring the instant there is sexual penetration from the male sex organ. In other states, rape may more broadly include penetration with other body parts, or unwanted fellatio, cunnilingus, and anal intercourse. While these kinds of forcible rape are the most commonly known, they are not the only types that exist.
Rape, for instance, may include scenarios where one party inhibits the other’s ability to consent by dosing them with drugs or alcohol. It could encompass scenarios in which one party is physically or mentally disabled, and thus unable to legally consent. It might even include situations where one party takes advantage of the uneven power dynamics between themselves and another party to coerce sexual intercourse, even though it was not desired.
The key element in these cases is that sexual intercourse was unwanted and there was an element of force used to coerce the act. This is different from statutory rape, which is typcially nonforcible in nature and involves sexual intercourse with an individual under the age of consent (which may vary from state to state).
The second key difference is this — in cases of statutory rape, the element of consent is irrelevant because the age gap between the two parties is what matters. Statutory rape laws apply even when the minor consents to sexual intercourse or the adult did not (but should have) known the other party was underage.
Finally, statutory rape differs from rape in the severity of the typical punishments. In cases of rape, punishments are generally more severe — classified as felonies — and carry sentences of many years. Statutory rape on the other hand often comes with a lighter sentence, and in some states, offenders may only get a few years in prison or some time in the county jail, depending on the circumstances.