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“In many cases, they are enforced largely by how angry the parents of the younger party are.” In some states, offenders have spent years in prison for statutory rape in situations similar to Jamie Lynn Spears’ while other states have prosecuted only egregious crimes.

One particularly shocking case drew international attention when 17-year-old Georgia resident, Genarlow Wilson, was charged with aggravated child molestation and sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl.

In May 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned Dixon’s conviction, stating that he should’ve been prosecuted on the lesser charge of misdemeanor statutory rape, which carries a maximum sentence of one year.He walked out of prison on May 3, 2004, at age 19, a free man.Depending on the state, Romeo and Juliet laws may reduce the severity of the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, reduce the penalty to a fine, probation, or community service, and/or eliminate the requirement that the convicted adult register as a sex offender.The following are just a few examples of Romeo and Juliet laws currently in place in the United States: Exceptions and Other Considerations In addition to Romeo and Juliet laws, some states have specific exemptions when both parties to the sexual act are minors, or the person to be charged is legally married to the minor.She claimed it was rape, he claimed it was consensual, and a jury acquitted him of the charges.

However, because of their age difference, the jury still found Dixon guilty of statutory rape and aggravated child molestation, and sentenced him to a mandatory 10 years in prison under Georgia law.

Because the laws weren’t intended to punish two individuals close in age who engage in consensual sex, in many jurisdictions, an adult who is two or three years older than the minor will not be charged with statutory rape, or will be penalized less severely than a much older adult.

These so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws provide defenses and reduced penalties in cases where the couple is relatively close in age.

Research shows that teenage girls tend to have their first sexual experience with male partners who are three or more years older.

In one study, researchers discovered that girls who’d had an older boyfriend by seventh grade were twice as likely to have had sex by ninth grade as girls who’d had a same-age boyfriend by seventh grade.

Your 18-year-old son is dating a 16-year-old female classmate – no big deal, right?