Social media is a part of everyday life, with people using Tinder, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to connect with others. These sites create potential problems because it is impossible to know if the person we’ve connected to is who they present themselves to be. While there are well-known risks to using sites such as Craigslist, there are other instances where meeting someone in person whom you’ve communicated with on-line can create legal dangers that you may not be aware of.
What is Statutory Rape?
Sexual assault occurs when a victim is forced to participate in a sexual act or is violated in a sexual context by a perpetrator without the victim’s consent. There are harsh legal penalties imposed for this type of assault, and those penalties increase depending on specific circumstances such as the use of force or the incapacitation of the victim.
As defined by Florida statutes, any person under the age of 18 is incapable of consenting to sexual activities. This legal determination regarding consent means that if an adult (a person older than 18) has consensual sex with a minor (a person under 18), that adult can be charged with statutory rape. Depending on the age of the minor, the defendant can face financial penalties, up to 15 years in prison, and be required to register as a sex offender.
Statutory Rape and Social Media*
Today, there is an increased risk of a man being charged with statutory rape when his first introduction to a girl is on the internet. It is possible for a girl to present herself as being 18 years old when in fact she is under the age of consent. When the couple meet in person, it can be reasonable for a man to engage in sex with a woman he believes is above the age of consent.
Unfortunately, the reasonable belief by the adult male that the female is also an adult does not protect him from statutory rape charges or penalties.
Defenses for Statutory Rape
Examine Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” Law Page 3 ages 16-17, s. 794.05, F.S., provides an age-gap provision that allows a 16 or 17 year-old to legally consent to sexual conduct with a person 16-23 years of age. The fact that an offender may not have known the age of the victim or the victim portrayed themselves to be older, cannot be used as a defense to prosecution under s. 800.04, F.S.,15 or ch. 794, F.S.16
However, as provided in s. 921.0026, F.S., these facts can be offered at sentencing as mitigation for the court’s consideration.
Consent to the sexual act is not a defense nor is the lack of knowledge of the girl’s true age. The “Romeo and Juliet Defense” is a limited defense available to someone accused of statutory rape. The intent of the law is to prevent the imposition of serious criminal penalties against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with someone near their own age. In Florida, this defense applies when the minor was between 14 and 17 years old and the defendant is no more than 4 years older than the victim at the time the sexual act occurred. This defense may not protect the defendant from the imposition of legal penalties and punishments, but it can preclude him from the requirement to register as a sexual offender. This determination is left to the judge’s discretion.
Actions to Take
In most cases, statutory rape charges are at the behest of the parents, not the girl. The moment a man learns that he has engaged in sex with an underage female he should hire a criminal defense attorney in case charges are eventually filed. He should also immediately:
- Cease all communication and interaction with the girl.
- Shut down all social media activities. · Remove all physical evidence of the encounters.
- Delete all telephone apps that may have been used to communicate with the girl.
- Delete and remove all computer or other evidence of the relationship and the encounter.
If you are contacted by the police, do not say anything to them until your lawyer is present. Your attorney may hire a private investigator on your behalf to disclose that the girl in question has chosen to engage in this type of activity with other men.
Unfortunately, statutory rape is a crime you can commit without knowledge or intent. Your best defense is to hire an experienced attorney and follow their recommendations.
* This discussion excludes situations of prostitution or non-statutory rape, but involves two people who consent to engage in sex and one has lied about her age.