The age of consent is the age at which a person is considered to be legally competent to consent to sexual acts. Consequently, an adult who engages in sexual activity with a person younger than the age of consent is unable to legally claim that the sexual activity was consensual, and such sexual activity may be considered child sexual abuse or statutory r**e. The person below the minimum age is regarded as the victim, and their sex partner is regarded as the offender, unless both are underage. The purpose of setting an age of consent is to protect an underage person from sexual advances.
The term age of consent rarely appears in legal statutes. Generally, a law will instead establish the age below which it is illegal to engage in sexual activity with that person. It has sometimes been used with other meanings, such as the age at which a person becomes competent to consent to marriage, but the meaning given above is the one now generally understood. It should not be confused with other laws regarding age minimums including, but not limited to, the age of majority, age of criminal responsibility, voting age, drinking age, and driving age.
Age of consent laws vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, though most jurisdictions set the age of consent in the range 14 to 18. The laws may also vary by the type of sexual act, the gender of the participants or other considerations, such as involving a position of trust; some jurisdictions may also make allowances for minors engaged in sexual acts with each other, rather than a single age. Charges and penalties resulting from a breach of these laws may range from a misdemeanor, such as corruption of a minor, to what is popularly called statutory r**e.
There are many "grey areas" in this area of law, some regarding unspecific and untried legislation, others brought about by debates regarding changing societal attitudes, and others due to conflicts between federal and state laws. These factors all make age of consent an often confusing subject and a topic of highly charged debates.
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