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What Are the Ages of Consent Throughout the Western World?

The recent discussion made me wonder about the actual legal norm as to general ages of consent. I set aside for purposes of this post what implications this data might have (though I hope to post soon some modest remarks on this, recognizing that of course the "ought" may well be quite different from "is," and inevitably has to be, given how many different "is"es there are).

Here I just want to summarize the data, which I've posted in this Excel spreadsheet. The age of consent information is based largely on Wikipedia (check out this map) and CoolNurse, with a little bit of checking on my part; certainly any scholarly work on this would have to rely on more reliable data, but this struck me as close enough for the rough aggregate results I'm reporting.

A few notes about how I chose the jurisdictions to survey. First, I thought that it would be most helpful to talk both about the U.S. separately, and the Western World more broadly, since we are part of a broader Western culture that shares a good deal in history and values, so that the other Western countries' judgment would at least be of some interest to us. The boundaries of the Western World are of course not precisely defined, but I basically chose the U.S., Europe West of the Iron Curtain (though including all of Germany and excluding the pinpoint countries), plus the Western Anglosphere, which is to say Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. My sense is that these are the countries that are most likely to be closest enough to us in cultural history and other values.

Second, I focused on what I call the "general age of consent," which excludes lower ages of consent when the other partner is within some range in age, or when the parties are married (which would generally require parental consent), and also excludes higher ages of consent when the other partner is in some specific position of authority over the younger partner (plus an unusual Massachusetts rule which sets the age of consent at 18 if the younger person is "of chaste life," the age otherwise being 16). Third, I focused (partly for the sake of convenience and partly because of the special moral significance of legal rules) on the legal rules, and not on social practices, which might on one hand frown on certain relationships that are legal, and on the other decline to enforce the law as to certain relationships that are illegal.

In any case, here's the summary of the data:

  1. Throughout the Western World (population 750 million), sex is generally permitted with (for all items but the last, I give a percentage that includes the lower age-of-consent countries)

    • 13-year-olds for 6% of the population (Spain);

    • 14-year-olds for 27% of the population (add Austria, Germany, Iceland, Italy, and Portugal;

    • 15-year-olds for 38% of the population (add Denmark, France, and Sweden);

    • 16-year-olds for 77% of the population (add nearly all the remaining Western countries and 30 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia);

    • 17-year-olds for 88% of the population (add Ireland, South Australia, and Tasmania and 8 U.S. states);

    • only 18-year-olds and above for 12% of the population (12 U.S. states).

  2. Within the U.S., the general age of consent is

    • 16 in 30 states plus D.C. (representing 45% of the population);

    • 17 in 8 states (representing 25% of the population);

    • 18 in 12 states (representing 30% of the population, California and Florida accounting for the majority of this).

  3. The median in the U.S. is thus age 16 if you go by state count, but 17 if you go by population, though nearly half the population is in the age-16 states.

  4. The median in the U.S. plus the Anglosphere is solidly age 16.

  5. The median in the Western World is also 16.

  6. The median in Western Europe is 15 (with 63% of the population living in 15-or-below countries).

  7. Throughout the U.S., the general age of consent is always 16 or above (though this has been so only for the last several years). In the rest of the Western World, the general age of consent is always 16 or below, except for Ireland, South Australia, and Tasmania, which together account for a little over 1% of the non-U.S. Western population.

I stress again: I'm giving these numbers as potentially interesting data; I hope to talk in a later post about the implications of this data, but for now I just want to note the data. If there are errors in the data, please e-mail me corrections. And naturally please do not rely on any of this age-of-consent data as legal guidance for your own personal behavior ....

A. Nony Mouse:
Thus, in the United States, you generally need to be 16 to get laid, 18 to vote and go to war, but 21 to buy a beer. It still doesn't make sense to me.
4.30.2008 3:34pm
Wahoowa:
In Yemen, the age of consent is, according to Wikipedia, NINE. But you have to be married. Somehow, that caveat's not comforting.
4.30.2008 3:35pm
A. Nony Mouse:
I would also be interested in seeing the age of consent in Asian countries where sex tourism is such a big industry.
4.30.2008 3:36pm
JB:
What about more complex laws, like "16, but 15 if the other person is under 19," and such? Does that happen anywhere but the USA?
4.30.2008 3:43pm
John McCall (mail):
A map, which I believe is fairly up-to-date.
4.30.2008 3:44pm
John McCall (mail):
Oh man, how did I miss the link to that in the original post? Feel free to delete this comment and the other.
4.30.2008 3:44pm
Mike& (mail):
There is, in an important sense, a U.S. (re: federal) age of consent - 18 years.

How did I conclude that?

If you travel interstate to have sex with someone under 18, you've committed a federal crime.

So there is a de facto federal age of consent.
4.30.2008 3:47pm
Brian Mac:

If you travel interstate to have sex with someone under 18, you've committed a federal crime.

So there is a de facto federal age of consent.


I'm not educated in the law, but if there was a de facto federal age of consent, wouldn't it trump state laws of consent in all circumstances, not just where interstate travel (commerce?) is involved?
4.30.2008 4:08pm
Anderson (mail):
check out this map

Man, is that not literally the LAST thing, besides narcotics or explosives, that I want airport security to find in my carry-on?
4.30.2008 4:10pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Mike&: Where is that statute? There are statutes that criminalize interstate travel for a "commercial sex act," e.g. 18 USC 1591. And there are statutes that criminalize transporting an individual interstate for "prostitution" or "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense," e.g. 18 USC 2421-2423, which also criminalize persuading, inducing, enticing, etc., such transport, or even just using the mail for that purpose (even without any transport).

18 USC 2423(b) also criminalizes interstate travel to engage in "illicit sexual conduct," which includes "a sexual act . . . with a person under 18 years of age that would be in violation of chapter 109A if the sexual act occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States."

And chapter 109A contains a list of various sex offenses, most of which are nonconsensual -- aggravated sexual abuse under 18 USC 2241 (which covers interstate travel for sex with children under 12) and sexual abuse under 18 USC 2242.

The only statutory-rape-type provision in chapter 109A is 18 USC 2243, "sexual abuse of a minor or ward," which criminalizes a "sexual act" with someone at least 12 but under 16 AND who's at least four years younger than the partner; and 18 USC 2244 also punishes "sexual contact" of the same sort. (Also there's a part in 18 USC 2242(2)(A) criminalizing sexual acts with someone who is "incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct," but that seems unlikely to be an age-based provision.)

So while 18 USC 2423 criminalizes interstate travel for "illicit acts" with someone under 18, unless there's something nonconsensual (and the partner is at least 12), the act doesn't seem to become "illicit" unless the partner is under 16 and with an at-least-four-year age difference.

Anyway, that's just from my quick perusal of the statutes -- which would establish at most a federal age of consent of 16 (that's a general age, since there's the exception for slight age differences), which is no higher than any state's age of consent. And even that's pushing it, since it's only when there's interstate travel with that intent, which I doubt is true of most sex in the U.S.

Is there some statute I'm missing?
4.30.2008 4:10pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Mike&: Are you sure about that? Chapter 109A of the federal Title 18 bans sex "in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States" with minors under 16 (with a Romeo-and-Juliet exception).

Then 18 U.S.C. § 2243 criminalizing "travel[ing] in interstate commerce ... for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned," but defines "illicit sexual conduct" to mean "a sexual act ... with a person under 18 years of age that would be in violation of chapter 109A if the sexual act occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States" or "any commercial sex act ... with a person under 18 years of age."

So as I read it, traveling interstate to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old is not a federal crime unless the sex is to be commercial. Or am I missing something?

(Even if the law did bar traveling to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old, I'm not sure this would be "in an important sense" a "federal[] age of consent," since it would apply to a tiny fraction of all sexual acts involving 16- or 17-year-olds. But in any event, as I read it, the law covers only interstate travel to have sex with under-16-year-olds.)
4.30.2008 4:12pm
Nathan_M (mail):

What about more complex laws, like "16, but 15 if the other person is under 19," and such? Does that happen anywhere but the USA?

Canadian law is like that (although even more complex, thanks to recent changes), I'm not sure about any other jurisdictions.
4.30.2008 4:20pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Eugene: Great minds think alike!
4.30.2008 4:24pm
Brian Mac:

Man, is that not literally the LAST thing, besides narcotics or explosives, that I want airport security to find in my carry-on?

There's far worse...
4.30.2008 4:25pm
Ugh (mail):
So let me get this straight, it's legal for 70% of the population of the U.S. to actually have sex with a 17 year-old, but if you possess a videotape of such a romp, you can spend decades in prison a be labeled a sex offender for life?
4.30.2008 4:27pm
Samir Chopra (mail) (www):
Ugh: Yes. Consider this state of affairs a suggestion that we do, rather than watch, that we practice, rather than just endlessly theorize and deliberate. Yes sir, our laws want us to go out and actually do things.
4.30.2008 4:35pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Videotaping would be soul-theft.
4.30.2008 4:37pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Sasha (4.30.2008 3:24pm): Funny, I was just about to say that.
4.30.2008 4:37pm
MarkField (mail):

First, I thought that it would be most helpful to talk both about the U.S. separately, and the Western World more broadly, since we are part of a broader Western culture that shares a good deal in history and values, so that the other Western countries' judgment would at least be of some interest to us.


But, of course, surely no US court would ever cite to foreign practice in interpreting our law.
4.30.2008 4:44pm
GSW:
I would merely note that Latin America (where the law generally derive from the same civil law principles and religious backgroun as most of Western Europe) should be included as part of the Western world. Doing so probably lowers the median age for the Western world, given that much of Mexico including the D.F. sets the age at a region-wide (and IMO shocking) low of 12 (but not all, e.g. Quintana Roo). This is doubly true when you add in the 13 and 14 year old age of consent common in most of South America (including the 180M living in Brazil).
4.30.2008 4:48pm
Aric (mail) (www):
This post immediately made me think of this, courtesy of The Onion: Link
4.30.2008 4:48pm
cato-9 (mail):
I'm having some trouble with the map, due to being somewhat colorblind, but is it a fair summary to say that, in overall prudishness, the USA is worse than most countries, but not quite as bad as Egypt &Turkey?

But, the good news is that we are nowhere near as sexually repressed as Madagascar! Whew, that's a relief!
4.30.2008 4:50pm
cato-9 (mail):
This post immediately made me think of this, courtesy of The Onion: Link

I'm only interested in this topic because I'm researching for a book --- HONEST!!!!
4.30.2008 4:56pm
Joey23 (mail):
I'm printing this out and going traveling!
4.30.2008 5:26pm
Anderson (mail):
Is it an affirmative defense that your GPS was faulty and you thought you were in the jungles of Mexico, not Guatemala?

Probably not.

And I'm with Ugh: legal to copulate, legal to record copulation, at least for personal use (reminiscing about old times, er, young times). Not sure about internet posting.

you generally need to be 16 to get laid, 18 to vote and go to war, but 21 to buy a beer

Right, that is so backwards. How do you get laid without beer?

I would propose 16 to vote, 18 to drink, 21 to have sex, and 50 to go to war.
4.30.2008 5:34pm
john w (mail):
Hopefully, this isn't too far off-topic, but I have a couple of questions regarding the federal law that makes it a crime for a US citizen overseas to have sex with a minor:

1.) Does this apply to all sex, or only to commercial sex (i.e. prostitutes)? In other words, if a 24 y.o. American goes to, say, Mexico or Brazil and seduces a 14 y.o., but no money changes hands, has he broken the law?

2.) If the answer to #1 is 'yes,' what is the constitutional justification for it, if there is no commerce involved? (Let's say the guy walks across the border from the USA to Mexico, and does not use any commercial transportation).

3.) Is there a marriage exception? Marriage between a 14 y.o. and a 24 y.o. would not be very unusual in Latin American culture.

The usual disclaimer, just in case the Feds (or worse yet, my wife) are monitoring my computer: This is all just for academic interest!!
4.30.2008 5:38pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
In Yemen, the age of consent is, according to Wikipedia, NINE. But you have to be married. Somehow, that caveat's not comforting.

In the US and the rest of the Western World until quite recently you had to be married too. That is, when the AOC was around 14 or so, fornication was a crime. So even absent a statutory rape charge the unmarried could be prosecuted. The last fornication laws still on the books in the US were implicitly invalidated by Lawrence.
4.30.2008 5:57pm
PLR:
And naturally please do not rely on any of this age-of-consent data as legal guidance for your own personal behavior.

Please please please put that sort of thing at the top of your post. I was halfway done reading it when this girl walked into my office with an AC/DC t-shirt on...
4.30.2008 6:25pm
theobromophile (www):
There is, in an important sense, a U.S. (re: federal) age of consent - 18 years.

How did I conclude that?

If you travel interstate to have sex with someone under 18, you've committed a federal crime.

If true, that's bad news for all of the college freshmen with high school sweethearts who are still in high school (or, of course, college freshmen who have yet to turn 18).

need to be 16 to get laid, 18 to vote and go to war, but 21 to buy a beer.

You forgot: 16 (in most states, or close to) to drive. Once you throw that into the mix, it all makes sense: you can have sex once you've acquired a place in which to fool around, away from parental eyes; you can vote once you've had a pregnancy scare; thou shalt vote sober, at least once; and you can be sent off to war with fond memories of home.
4.30.2008 6:26pm
Bo:
Would anyone have info on how these countries have changed over time? Have they been like Canada, increasing their age of consent, or have most countries reduced their age of consent over time?
4.30.2008 6:29pm
ReaderY:
If you're looking only at legal rules, you should take into account fornication laws
4.30.2008 6:47pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
I don't see any rational reason to exclude all of South America from this. They're as much a part of Western civilization as the US, Mexico, and Canada are. You don't seem to give any reason for excluding them. Not that this is all that important and I'm sure you've more important things to do with your life, but it's a curious decision.
4.30.2008 6:47pm
CJColucci:
When I was growing up, you could drive at 16 and drink at 18. Now you can't drink until you're 21, supposedly to reduce drunk driving. (My youngest brother turned 18 in the year the age was raised to 19 and 19 in the year it was raised to 21.) I'm not so sure that's a good idea. Young males aren't very good drivers for the first several years, and hitting them with booze while they're still lousy drivers just makes matters worse. I say let them start drinking at 12, so they've learned to hold their liquor before they get behind the wheel.
4.30.2008 6:49pm
whit:
"Hopefully, this isn't too far off-topic, but I have a couple of questions regarding the federal law that makes it a crime for a US citizen overseas to have sex with a minor: "

the law is called The Protect Act.

in brief, it prohibits US citizens, while out of the country to have sex with minors UNDER 16 and "commercial sex" with those under 18.

imo, this law is dumb in oh so many ways, but it's the law.

note that the old law used to allow (non commercial sex) with any age minor outside our borders as long as it was not in contravention of local laws. the law as it now stands (as i read it), makes it illegal to have sex with a 15 yr old in country X, even if the laws of country X allow it.

i cannot see how these laws are "just." how does the US govt. have jurisdiction over acts of US citizens while in other countries? it just strikes me as wrong on oh so many levels.

i can understand the intent (it's always to protect the children that the dumbest and most overreaching laws are passed) that just because country X says you can have sex with a 12 yr old or whatever, that you can't get away with that IF you are a US citizen, but still- if the act does not occur in the US how can the feds possibly have jurisdiction? but im not a lawyer.
4.30.2008 6:59pm
john w (mail):
whit wrote: if the act does not occur in the US how can the feds possibly have jurisdiction? but im not a lawyer.

Same here. I was hoping that one of the lawyer-types would chime in and explain things to us. My (vague and possibly incorrect) layman's understanding was that the commercial-sex part has been upheld constitutionally on commerce clause grounds (and to me, even that seems like a stretch).

But what possible Constitutional justification can there be for the non-commercial prohibition?? (I guess it's buried in the 'save the children from imaginary hobgoblins' clause, which comes right next to the 'penumbras and emanations' clause, Right?)
4.30.2008 7:10pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
Going overseas to have sex with minors is generally referred to as "sex tourism." If the statute requires that the intention of your travel must be to have sex with minors, this makes "sex tourism" a pretty good description of what is going on (as compared to someone who just happens to be overseas and winds up having sex with a minor). Tourism certainly constitutes "commerce," it is the biggest industry in many countries. This brings it well within the Commerce Clause. Further, whether you pay for what you do on vacation does not make it any less part of your overall tourism. Its the trip that is the commerce, not just the individual things that you purchased on that trip.
4.30.2008 7:47pm
Dan Hamilton:
With the number of Hispanics in the US not including The rest of North and South America is very wrong.

Case in Houston a few years ago Man married a 12year old with parental consent. He was charged with statutory. Even back then 12 was too young. He got off. Both him and the girl's family were from Mexico 12 was normal for them so the jury let him walk.

Put the Hispanic numbers in and see the age drop. Maybe close to 14.
4.30.2008 7:48pm
Kevin C. (mail) (www):
Ugh:

You mean like this case?
4.30.2008 8:04pm
MarkField (mail):

If the statute requires that the intention of your travel must be to have sex with minors, this makes "sex tourism" a pretty good description of what is going on (as compared to someone who just happens to be overseas and winds up having sex with a minor). Tourism certainly constitutes "commerce," it is the biggest industry in many countries. This brings it well within the Commerce Clause.


I'm sure someone here can find a way to use the "can't tax exports" clause as a defense.
4.30.2008 8:11pm
whit:
"If the statute requires that the intention of your travel must be to have sex with minors,"

except the statute DOESN'T require that (intention). it requires no intention at all. merely that once you are IN the foreign country you have either

1) sex with a minor under 16
OR
2) commercial sex with a minor under 18

the OLD law had a clause about intention etc. the new law, the protect act criminalizes either (1) or (2) regardless of whether you had intent to do either act when you left the country.
4.30.2008 8:14pm
john w (mail):

Going overseas to have sex with minors is generally referred to as "sex tourism." If the statute requires that the intention of your travel must be to have sex with minors, this makes "sex tourism" a pretty good description of what is going on (as compared to someone who just happens to be overseas and winds up having sex with a minor). Tourism certainly constitutes "commerce," it is the biggest industry in many countries. This brings it well within the Commerce Clause. Further, whether you pay for what you do on vacation does not make it any less part of your overall tourism. Its the trip that is the commerce, not just the individual things that you purchased on that trip.



OK, I understand what you are saying, but I don't see where it addresses either of the following hypotheticals:

A.) 22 yo naturalized US citizen from Tijuana, now living in San Diego, walks across the border to have sex with his 15 yo fiance whom he plans to marry someday. Then he walks back. He does not spend one dime on anything. Has he broken the law? And, if so, where is the commerce?

B.) 22 yo American goes overseas to study at a foreign university. Six months later, he happens to fall in love with a 15 yo local girl, in an unplanned romance, and he sleeps with her. Has he broken the law? If so, where was the intent, if his original plan was simply to study?
4.30.2008 8:22pm
whit:
"A.) 22 yo naturalized US citizen from Tijuana, now living in San Diego, walks across the border to have sex with his 15 yo fiance whom he plans to marry someday. Then he walks back. He does not spend one dime on anything. Has he broken the law? And, if so, where is the commerce? "

as i read it. yes, he has. no commerce required. sex with someone under 16 while out of the country. illegal.

ditto for your second scenario. no intent required.
4.30.2008 8:41pm
stunned:
kinda like how talking about food sometimes makes me hungry, all this chatter makes me want to **** a 16 year old. guess i better do it before moving to CA.
4.30.2008 9:57pm
Leopold Stotch:
"Of chaste life"? Does this mean that it's a crime to deflower a virgin who's less than 18, but that the second and subsequent acts are OK as long as s/he is at least 16?
4.30.2008 9:59pm
whit:
butter not do it leopold.
4.30.2008 10:50pm
Pedantry:
I think the age of consent is 17 in 'South Australia' (a state), not 'Southern Australia' (a region). I am writing this in southern Australia, but (thank god...) not in South Australia. And the age of consent here is 16. [EV: Whoops, thanks, fixed it.]
4.30.2008 11:35pm
Leopold Stotch:
Nice whit. That's a pun.
5.1.2008 12:17am
ShelbyC:
Doesn't the mann act make it a federal crime to cross state lines for the purpose of sex with anyone not your wife (immoral purpose, i.e. debauchery)
5.1.2008 1:33am
theobromophile (www):
Has any jurisdiction enacted the "half your age plus seven" rule?

---

Semi-serious question about the overseas/16 year old thing. If some states place the age of sexual consent at 15, when married, does that mean that you cannot legally wed, have sex that night in your hotel room, and then go overseas for the honeymoon?

Now, I think that 15 is too young for both sex and marriage, so I have little (moral) problem with prohibiting this, but it seems like a jurisdictional nightmare.
5.1.2008 1:48am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
ShelbyC: That wording of the Mann Act is obsolete.

Before 1986, 18 USC 2421 (the Mann Act) read as follows:

Whoever knowingly transports in interstate or foreign commerce, or in the District of Columbia or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent and purpose to induce, entice, or compel such woman or girl to become a prostitute or to give herself up to debauchery, or to engage in any other immoral practice; or

Whoever knowingly procures or obtains any ticket or tickets, or any form of transportation or evidence of the right thereto, to be used by any woman or girl in interstate or foreign commerce, or in the District of Columbia or any Territory or Possession of the United States, in going to any place for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent or purpose on the part of such person to induce, entice, or compel her to give herself up to the practice of prostitution, or to give herself up to debauchery, or any other immoral practice, whereby any such woman or girl shall be transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or in the District of Columbia or any Territory or Possession of the United States--

Shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

It was greatly amended in 1986 (and then slightly amended in 1998 [to add attempt and change the penalties]), so that it now reads:

Whoever knowingly transports any individual in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

So you see the prostitution is still there, but the "immoral purposes" are now just replaced with criminal sexual activity. (And the woman or girl is now just any individual.) Of course that's still just transporting someone else, and doesn't apply to going yourself.

Similarly, before 1986, the following section, 18 USC 2422, read as follows:

Whoever knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any woman or girl to go from one place to another in interstate or foreign commerce, or in the District of Columbia or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent and purpose on the part of such person that such woman or girl shall engage in the practice of prostitution or debauchery, or any other immoral practice, whether with or without her consent, and thereby knowingly causes such woman or girl to go and to be carried or transported as a passenger upon the line or route of any common carrier or carriers in interstate or foreign commerce or in the District of Columbia or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

Now it's changed in similar ways to the previous section, and reads:

(a) Whoever knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, to engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

(b) Whoever, using the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual who has not attained the age of 18 years, to engage in prostitution or any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life.

The following section, 18 USC 2423, was also greatly amended in 1986 and then amended again, most substantially in 1998 and 2003. I'm not sure how it read before, but now it reads:

(a) Transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.--A person who knowingly transports an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any commonwealth, territory or possession of the United States, with intent that the individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life.

(b) Travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.--A person who travels in interstate commerce or travels into the United States, or a United States citizen or an alien admitted for permanent residence in the United States who travels in foreign commerce, for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

(c) Engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places.--Any United States citizen or alien admitted for permanent residence who travels in foreign commerce, and engages in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

(d) Ancillary offenses.--Whoever, for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain, arranges, induces, procures, or facilitates the travel of a person knowing that such a person is traveling in interstate commerce or foreign commerce for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

(e) Attempt and conspiracy.--Whoever attempts or conspires to violate subsection (a), (b), (c), or (d) shall be punishable in the same manner as a completed violation of that subsection.

(f) Definition.--As used in this section, the term "illicit sexual conduct" means (1) a sexual act (as defined in section 2246) with a person under 18 years of age that would be in violation of chapter 109A if the sexual act occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States; or (2) any commercial sex act (as defined in section 1591) with a person under 18 years of age.

(g) Defense.--In a prosecution under this section based on illicit sexual conduct as defined in subsection (f)(2), it is a defense, which the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant reasonably believed that the person with whom the defendant engaged in the commercial sex act had attained the age of 18 years.

The contents of the "illicit sexual conduct" under chapter 109A were discussed in previous comments in this thread.
5.1.2008 2:07am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
theobromophile: Not to worry.

First, note that the prosecution would have to be under 18 USC 2423(b) or (c) above, depending whether the travel was interstate or to a foreign country.

And for that to happen, "illicit sexual conduct" would have to take place, as defined in subsection (f). Ignoring the commercial sex act part in (f)(2), we're referred to things that would be criminal under chapter 109A if they had happened in "the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States."

The only part of chapter 109A that seems applicable here is 18 USC 2243. (As I explained in a previous comment, the other sections of chapter 109A, mostly about non-consensual sex or sex with someone under 12, seem inapplicable here.) Now 18 USC 2243 says, in relevant part:

(a) Of a minor.--Whoever, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or in a Federal prison, or in any prison, institution, or facility in which persons are held in custody by direction of or pursuant to a contract or agreement with the head of any Federal department or agency, knowingly engages in a sexual act with another person who--

(1) has attained the age of 12 years but has not attained the age of 16 years; and

(2) is at least four years younger than the person so engaging;

or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both.

[snip]

(c) Defenses.--(1) In a prosecution under subsection (a) of this section, it is a defense, which the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant reasonably believed that the other person had attained the age of 16 years.

(2) In a prosecution under this section, it is a defense, which the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that the persons engaging in the sexual act were at that time married to each other.

(d) State of mind proof requirement.--In a prosecution under subsection (a) of this section, the Government need not prove that the defendant knew--

(1) the age of the other person engaging in the sexual act; or

(2) that the requisite age difference existed between the persons so engaging.

So, you see, the defense in 18 USC 2243(c)(2) gets you out of the federal crime if the couple was married.

On the other hand, if an unmarried 20-year-old and 15-year-old cross state lines in order to have sex, then even if the activity is legal in both the origin state and the destination state (though this doesn't seem to be the case anywhere now), the crossing of the state lines seems to be a federal crime.
5.1.2008 2:35am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Oh, hmmm, I wonder whether "traveling in interstate commerce" includes traveling entirely intrastate for the purposes of these statutes?
5.1.2008 2:39am
ShelbyC:
Sasha, Thanks for the update. :-).
5.1.2008 2:48am
Jesse Wendel:
Chile, for example, has an age of consent of 14. Until 2006 (I think) their age of consent was only 12.

When you get around to updating the spreadsheet -- and averages for the "Western" world -- on a percentage basis by age, having included South America, please post a full update.

I'd really like to see how that changes the statistics.

Thanks much.
5.1.2008 3:11am
theobromophile (www):
Thank you! :) That's actually really interesting.

Um, as for the last part... I have a few semi-serious, semi-sarcastic answers. If the intrastate travel is on interstate highway, there may be a colourable argument that it is, indeed, interstate travel.

I cannot help but wonder whether that would apply in Hawaii and/or Alaska. I could see intrastate travel in Alaska that could, possibly, be subject to maritime jurisdiction, maybe? Alaska, however, lacks interstate highway; Hawaii does not, as it has the H-1 etc roadway. I presume that it might depend on whether or not "intrastate" Hawaiian travel involves moving from island to island in such a manner as to trigger federal jurisdiction.
5.1.2008 4:29am
TheGut (mail):

Texas District Judge Barbara Walther signed the order Wednesday giving the state custody of the 1-day-old infant born to a teen believed to be 15 or 16 years old.

The girl has claimed to be 18 and based on a bishop's record used during the custody hearing two weeks ago, she would be 18 now. But officials believe she is younger and placed her in foster care with other children taken from the ranch.

Foxnews

Hmm, while age of majority is different than age of consent, I wonder how they are able to do this? If she turns out to be 18, she should, morally, be able to sue them for kidnapping her. But I doubt if she will be able to.
5.2.2008 11:13am
Oren:
thegut, it's unfortunate that we don't have reliable records establishing her age. A simple certificate of live birth would solve this issue in a second.
5.2.2008 12:27pm
Bretzky (mail):
Judging by this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer, I'd say that at least one state on the list is not correct in terms of general consent. The story doesn't indicate that Pennsylvania has a special law when it comes to someone who is 16 years of age and a school employee, so the age is probably higher than 16.
5.2.2008 2:05pm