Sexual contact between adults and children is illegal in every state. There are a number of terms used to describe sexual assault against children. These include statutory rape, sexual abuse, sexual molestation, pedophilia, incest, and "impairing the morals of a minor."
One of every four girls in our country is sexually molested by an older child or adult before age 18. One of every six boys is also molested by age 18. There are 300,000 cases of molestation, or child sexual abuse, reported each year. Most sex offenders molest many children many times. These acts can cause serious, lifelong problems for the victims. In fact, sex offenders themselves often report having been molested when they were children.
Most sexual assault of children does not involve force or threat of force. But some adult offenders may frighten or bribe children in some way to get them to keep the crime a secret. Most assaults include sexual seduction, during which the offender slowly encourages the child to participate in sexual acts. But sometimes force is used. Many children who are seduced enjoy the attention that the offender pays them and do not understand the meaning of what is happening to them.
Statutory rape is a legal term for sexual intercourse between an adult and someone who is below the age of consent. Typically, the offender is male and the victim is female. Intercourse with an underage girl is a crime even if she agrees to the act. This law is meant to protect children from seduction.
Today, many girls mature early and may appear older than they are. Some older men wrongly assume a girl has reached the age of consent. This may be more likely in states where the age of consent is 18 but partial adult privileges are granted before then. For example, girls may be allowed to drive when they are 16 or 17 but are not considered old enough to have sex. Some states give consideration to men who believed that their partners were legally capable of consent.
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