To protect innocent youth, different countries around the world have different laws regarding the legal age of consent. This may be for sex or for marriage, among other things. In the United States, states impose various legal ages of consent according to their laws. The penalties for violating age of consent laws can be quite severe in all states, however.
While states are responsible for their own legal ages of consent, the U.S. government does have several laws regarding the treatment of minors. For example, the transport of minors for sexual acts across state or national boundaries is illegal, and it is punishable by national law.
Although many people think of age 18 as “legal,” states are allowed to set their ages of consent between 16-18 years of age. States including Alabama, Michigan, Nevada, and New Jersey have 16 as their legal age. States like Colorado, Louisiana, and Texas set their age at 17, and Arizona, Delaware, and Tennessee contend that a person must be 18 to consent.
After setting the legal age of content, states have the option of creating different levels of sexual crimes. For example, Alabama divides sex with a person below the legal age of consent into:
Second degree sexual abuse if a person at least 19 years of age has sexual contact with someone between 12 and 16
Second degree rape if a person of at least 16 years of age has sex with someone between the ages of 12 and 16, but the perpetrator is at least 2 years older than the minor
Second degree sodomy if a person that is at least 16 years old participates in this type of sexual intercourse with someone between 12 and 16
For marriage, states can also set laws so that people under the marriage age of consent must have their parents’ permission to wed. Most states require potential spouses to be at least 18, but some have higher age minimums.