Underage sex, is it rape?

I was reading stories about the “baby groupies” of the 70s, such as Sable Starr and Lori Maddox. They were having sex with older rock stars. Was this rape, technically? Why was it never prosecuted? When Don Johnson was 22, he was reportedly with Melanie Griffith age 14. Just seeking opinions, hence why it’s in IMHO.

Different times. Back then, if it appeared consensual, people just tsk-tsked, mostly. Sure if they was a complaint, in CA there was “statutory rape”. So yeah, that could have been rape.

Now we realize that underage people generally can’t truly consent. Of course we have all known a mature 17yo and an immature 20-something, but there has to be a cut off.

But still, there are exceptions- in many states you can get married quite early, and in some a 17 with a 17 is not a crime.

Note that 18 is not a bright line- in UK, iirc it is 16 for many things.

Yes, it was rape, and it wasn’t prosecuted for the same reasons that most rape isn’t prosecuted.

Age of consent and “Romeo and Juliet” laws vary a lot from country to country. So for sure there is no “bright line” when we’re speaking internationally.

Do you mean legally, or morally?

Legally, of course, it depends on the laws involved. So it’s a case-by-case thing.

Morally, I’d say it’s heavily subjective. I wouldn’t consider a 19 year old having consensual sex with a 17 year old to necessarily be any more wrong than two legal adults having consensual sex at all.

Hell, in the US they vary wildly from state to state.

In answer to the OP,

Take your pick:

  • AT THE TIME, statutory rape wasn’t taken as seriously.
  • it was seen as consensual, not coerced
  • changing laws. By now it would be past the statute of limitations, so why bother
  • hearsay. It’s one thing for me to say “I shot dope last Friday”, but it would be incredibly difficult for me to be arrested and prosecuted just due to that statement. We know now about those groupies, but at the time would the LEOs have had anything solid to prosecute on? And finding cooperative witnesses? Why bother?

To emphasize Dr.Winston_OBoogie’s point, these incidents weren’t reported to authorities. They weren’t reported then and I don’t believe they have been reported since.

Since the famous groupies lived in California I looked at the history of that state’s law and came up with this interesting 1997 article, Statutory Rape: When Is a Crime Not a Crime?

Some of the same factions that urged repeal of statutory rape laws in the sexually relaxed 1970s now view their enforcement as proof that America is moving toward more vigilant child protection policies in the 1990s…

California is among 14 states where the so-called age of consent, when a person can legally agree to engage in sex, is 18. In five states the age of consent is 17; it is 16 in 27 states and the District of Columbia; 15 in two states. Hawaii and Pennsylvania have the country’s lowest age of consent, 14…

In California, it is a crime to have sex with anyone younger than 18 unless the two people are married to one another. An unmarried minor in California cannot legally consent to sex. If the two people are within three years of age of one another, the crime is a misdemeanor in California. With more than a three-year age difference, the adult perpetrator in California can be charged with a felony and may receive a prison sentence of up to four years.

The same act between the same two people was variously legal or ilegal depending on what state it took place. Additionally, the same act was legal or illegal depending on whether the two people are married. If the younger partner is too young to consent to sex, then certainly they are too young to consent to marriage, but our religion-dominated society is as hypocritical on that point as it is on many others.

I agree that a line must be drawn legally. And it must be arbitrary just as a thousand other age lines are. An arbitrary age line is always subject to question, and so is often changed, as the age to vote or drink has been in my lifetime. What the right line is for sex is beyond me: I’m glad I don’t have to make that determination. But I’m absolutely positive that marriage shouldn’t change it.

“15’ll get ya 20” was true back then as much as now. But statutory rape charges were usually brought by the girl’s father against the boyfriend. Rock star groupies obviously don’t think they were raped, and if they don’t tell their parents, who is going to press charges?

Just FWIW: at least in the USA “Romeo and Juliet” laws are a relatively recent modification, mostly tied in with how many jurisdictions raised their ages-of-consent that in some locations were like, 14 or 12.

That said –

Yeah, if nobody was complaining, it would be let slide… and sometimes even if someone was.

But yes, “statutory rape” and “corrupting the morals of a minor” were in the books and if someone filed a credible report about a 30yo getting it on with a 13yo, you’d at least have to look into it. But “back when”, frankly rather than a measure to protect the minor it was often more as J_A_Q mentioned a more elegant alternative to daddy’s shotgun to deal with someone going for a teenager “of good reputation” (and that last bit is also important: 70s and 80s many jurisdictions still had such language in the text, or if not still did not hide that in practice they had one enforcement for cases involving the good girls of good families and another for… umm… those who weren’t).

Heck, even plain “child endangerment” was kind of oddly approached at the time…
– “I see there is an unrelated 14 year old female among the people staying in Mr. Tyler’s room…”
– “Um… yeah… here, this is the document from her Mom giving Steve legal guardianship of her.”
– “Ah, excellent, obviously 100% legit, carry on then.”

And the non-limitation or extended limitation provisions with regard to sexual offenses is also a recent phenomenon (and not retroactive).

Big one. The 13yo groupie in the 30yo rocker’s room in 1976 was not Instagramming the action (and the Polaroids he kept were destroyed some time c. 1980 when his lawyer told him about the new laws regarding that kind of picture).

True unless the older person is in a position of authority over the younger. Teacher/pupil for example.

You didn’t mention what state the sex occurred in, but back in the 70’s many states set the age of consent as young as 14. So since you used the word “technically”, I would say no, depending on what state they were in.

If you’re asking whether a 14-year-old can really and truly consent, one can probably point to exceptions. But I think they are rare enough that society is very well justified to say that nobody over 18 should ever have sex with anybody under 18, no matter who finds it inconvenient.

Agree in principle, but not absolutely. Picture the following: A boy and a girl, both underage, have consensual sex. No problem, OK? He is 17 years and 10 months old, she is 17 and 5 months old (or the other way around, does not matter). Two months later, he is just 18 but she is still under 18. So now, for the next five months, sex is illegal. Five months later, it is legal again. But morally, nothing changes all the time, does it? Thus, this laws concerning human behaviour must be applied with some leverage and common sense. Now how do you codify this in a legal text?
Common sense was interpreted and applied differently in the 70s, that is what happened. And it will interpreted differently in the future again, I guess. Thus applying our standards to another time will not get us nowhere. Blatant cases will be clear, as they were then, even if they were not prosecuted. But a big grey zone remains, then as now.

But that’s just silly. There are so many instances of slightly over 18 and slightly under 18 that such a puritanical bright line rule is unenforceable.

How is it unenforceable? What is there to prevent an ambitious or puritanical prosecutor from making the case?

One could also argue that, if an under-18 can’t give informed consent, then under-18s shouldn’t be having sex at all, even with each other. We might not prosecute it as a crime when both parties are underage, because for the same reasons that minors are considered unable to consent, they’re also not considered fully liable for criminal actions. But that doesn’t mean it should necessarily be considered OK.

For the discussions sake, here is a map of what US states have what age of consent: quite a few are still at 16, but none are lower than that now: United States Age of Consent Laws By State

Also did some reading and a lot of states have a “close-in age” exemption, where if the person with the below-age person is within 2-3 years or so of their age (say a 14-year old with a 17-year old in a 16-minumum state), the charges and potential punishment are much less severe.

Just FYI. Press on.

Ok. It’s enforceable. Just as every law that isn’t strictly enforced is theoretically strictly enforceable.

With the standard you propose, you’ve just criminalized a significant subset of high school dating relationships.

Right, it’s enforceable but impractical to enforce absolutely and unreasonable to expect it be. Which is how come the “Romeo and Juliet” windows-of-exception (along the lines of “as age difference is less than 4 years”) came to part of the law, so as to ease the prosecutorial discretion burden.

Ouch…the paragraph quoting Alan Dershowitz arguing for lowering the age of consent has not aged well, considering what we now know about his connection to Epstein.