What is the age of consent for minors?
Vail, CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” According to a recently published Centers for Disease Control report, 25 percent of American teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. Among certain population groups, the figure is as high as one of two.
As sexually transmitted diseases are clearly more passion-borne than airborne, something sexual is going on and on a scale with potentially frightening repercussions.
But this is not a column about sexual mores nor sexually transmitted diseases. Rather, the focus is consent. Simply, when may a person give consent to sexual relations?
The law defines “consent” as voluntarily yielding to the proposition of another. The law holds, too, that “consent” is an act of reason accompanied with deliberation. In other words, the mind must weigh and balance the good and evil on each side of a proposition. Consent, in order to be freely given, must be unclouded by fraud, duress, undue coercion, fear, or mistake. If a party cannot deliberate and reason, whether because of physical or mental incapacity, undue stress, pressure, or threat, or because of her minority, she has not yet developed the maturity or acuity to fully apprehend the potential consequences of her act, she cannot legally give consent.
The presumption of a minor’s not-yet-full development and reasoning is precisely why juvenile laws of all colors, stripes, and flavors are part of what constitute our laws. Children ” as is well known to anyone who once was one knows ” are simply different in their capacity to think things through, to weigh and reason, and defer.
The basis of the laws of sexual consent, then, is this: as children (defined in this state as those under the age of 18) have not yet ripened in their capacity to deliberate and reason, they cannot give informed, well-reasoned, and rational consent. They are said to be under the incapacity of their minority and may, therefore, not be bound by their decisions nor relied upon by others in their decisions.
In Colorado, a person commits sexual assault on a child where the victim is younger than 15 and the actor is at least four years older than the victim. An 18-year-old boy with a 14-year-old girlfriend, where the two are sexually intimate, is begging for trouble. Similarly, where the victim is at least 15 but younger than 17, and the actor is at least 10 years older than the victim, sexual intimacy between the two ” even where the girl is willing ” amounts to sexual assault. Sexual assault is a class 3 or 4 felony, depending upon the particulars. This is serious stuff and portends lifelong consequences.
Of course, you have read about the Mary Kay Letourneaus and Deborah Lafaves of the world ” teachers gone bad with the minor students ” whose crimes were made worse by being committed by persons in a position of trust. In circumstances such as teacher-child relationships, sexual contact with a minor is strictly and absolutely forbidden regardless of the age discrepancy between the parties. If a person in a position of trust has sexual contract with a child under the age of 15, it is a class 3 felony; under the age of 18 is a class 4 felony.
There are other crimes involving children as well, encompassing fondling, photographing and otherwise sexually exploiting children, each of which carries its own significant consequences.
Not until the age of 18 is a person legally no longer a child and can freely consent to sexual relations.
While the very best advice may be, for more than legal reasons, to wait until you’re 18, the CDC report suggests our societal values are, to say the least, moving in an entirely different direction. At the very minimum, adults should stay sexually away from kids entirely. Even a very young adult mixed up intimately with a minor although nearly his age, but not yet of majority age, may, at least in some circumstances, be committing at least a misdemeanor offense. Persons in a position of trust must avoid all questionable contact with children. Period. Older children and older teens having sex with one another must ensure that their partner is very near their age. And for God’s sake, as the very lowest common denominator, wear protection! Beside other issues, consider the potential legal implications. Such things as paternity suits, suit for damages for transmitting a known disease, and even assault quickly come to mind.
In the final analysis, mom, once again was right. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Rohn Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 926-4461 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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