Barely legal

A new "Romeo and Juliet" law in Indiana decriminalizes some forms of teen sex.

Catherine Price
July 9, 2007 11:50PM (UTC)

According to Fox News, a new law in Indiana has just decriminalized some types of teen sex.

More specifically, the so-called Romeo and Juliet law makes it legal for people under 21 to have sex with the person they're dating -- provided that the other person is no more than four years their junior and the sex is consensual. Having sex with anyone under the age of 14, however, is still considered child molestation.


(Minor question: Since the age of consent in Indiana has traditionally been 16 -- thus making sex between a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old legal -- why does the law require that both people be under 21? Shouldn't the law only apply to people ages 19 and younger?)

The law was designed to combat a growing problem: Thanks to looser definitions of what constitutes a "sexual offense," an increasing number of teenagers in consensual sexual relationships were getting added to databases of sexual offenders -- which meant that having consensual sex with a younger girlfriend or boyfriend could get teens labeled as "sexual predators" for their entire lives. According to Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, who was quoted by the article, this can have an impact on people's ability to get into school, get student loans or get hired for jobs. Regardless of your views on what is the right age to start having sex, it seems a bit extreme to have a mutual sexual relationship result in lifelong stigmatization.

However, the law does not give a free pass to all types of sexual encounters. According to this article, the law does not apply if the defendant "uses force, a weapon or drugs, or causes serious bodily injuries during the act" (to quote the article), "has a position of authority or substantial influence over the victim" or "has committed another sex offense against any other person." In other words, it's designed to only apply to people between the ages of 14 and 19 who are having consensual sex, and to help focus attention back on sexual crimes that are actually crimes. And shouldn't that be the point?

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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