Rape Law

What is Rape?

Rape is a form of sexual battery performed against someone who either is unwilling or is unable to consent. Rape can take the form of a violent act, one obtained by coercion, or by taking advantage of one who is unable to resist by virtue of being unconscious, incapacitated, or legally unable to consent (usually because they are underage).

There are several types of rape, typically defined by the circumstances of the crime. These can include date rape, aggravated rape, statutory rape, and others. Different jurisdictions recognize different forms of rape, and usually these variations will carry different sentencing guidelines. Definitions defining a crime as a rape versus a lesser crime such as sexual battery also vary by jurisdiction.


In any rape case, the absence of consent to sexual intercourse is the critical factor. However, it is possible for consent to be initially given then withdrawn. For example, a spouse may rape another spouse even though the very act of marriage may be considered a form of consent to an ongoing sexual relationship. Consent may be withdrawn during the lead-up to a sexual experience. It can even be given by someone who, by operation of law, is not able to give it (such as in statutory rape or in cases of mentally disabled persons) and not amount to legal consent required to avoid rape charges.

Statutory Rape

One of the most hotly debated forms of rape is what is known as “statutory rape.” Statutory rape occurs when an adult person has sexual intercourse with a person who is below the age of consent (18 in most jurisdictions). The giving of actual consent by the underage person is of no consequence, as the minor is not able to legally give consent.

In some jurisdictions, this crime is a strict liability crime (often the only strict liability crime in a state's body of law). What this means is that there is no need for intent to commit the crime. Indeed, one can take precautions against committing the crime such as asking the minor's age, looking at an identification (that turns out to be fake), or other measures, but if it turns out that the minor was below the age of consent, the other party has committed the crime of statutory rape.

Some jurisdictions have attempted to combat the inherent problems with such an approach by creating age “brackets” between which the statutory rape charge can be discretionary with prosecutors, handled as a lesser crime, or not treated as statutory rape at all. These age brackets are usually within three to five years between the minor and the other person.

Marital Rape

Once not a recognized form of rape, marital rape has only recently become a recognized criminal act. At one point, women were considered the property of their husbands and incapable of withholding consent to sexual acts. However, as women gained equal rights under the law, social views regarding rape changed as did the laws of marital consent.

Date Rape

After the use of disabling drugs, such as Rophenol (commonly referred to as “roofies”), became popular as a means of obtaining sexual intercourse from a known acquaintance came to public attention in the 1990s, states responded by passing laws explicitly targeting the act, often called “date rape.” Generally, in this form of rape, a drug is placed in the food or beverage of an unsuspecting victim which renders that person unconscious or in a deeply intoxicated state in which they are unable to withhold consent. Because of the nature of this crime, many states enacted enhanced penalties against its perpetrators.

More Information

For more information about the crime of rape, please review the materials below. Additionally, if you or someone you know believes they may have been the victim of rape, you should immediately contact law enforcement. There are also a number of rape victim resources available in virtually every community in the United States, and your local law enforcement agency will probably be able to direct you to these programs. If you have either been accused of rape, or have other legal questions about rape, you can find an attorney in your area by visiting our Law Firms page.

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Know Your Rights!

  • Considerations for Victims in Prosecuting Rape

    It is a difficult topic to discuss or even think about, but rape is a real part of every civilization. Although improvements have been made in the legal system, prosecution of a rapist can still be a drawn out and painful process, and often the victims of rape have no idea what to expect. This article will discuss what rape is and what a victim should expect from the prosecution of the crime.

  • What Can You Do if Someone Falsely Accuses You of Rape?

    It is an ugly reality, but it is known to happen: petty people misusing the very serious charge of rape as a way to gain an upper hand, get revenge, or otherwise harm another person. The results of such a false accusation can be devastating, even if the person wrongfully accused is ultimately acquitted. So, what can the innocent person do in such a case? What are the consequences to the false accuser?

Articles About Rape Law

  • Date Rape: What It Is, the Law and the Consequences
    The difference between ‘date rape’ and standard ‘rape’ in the legal context is restricted to the legal meaning of the terms. Thus, they carry the same serious consequences.
  • Accused of a Sex Crime? Seven Things You Need to Know
    The emotions that you feel when you are accused of committing a sex crime can swing wildly. Shock. Anger. Confusion. Sadness. Fear. During this trying time you need to focus on facts and pursuing a course of action for protecting your rights, no matter how difficult that may seem. An experienced defense attorney can help you keep your focus where it belongs.
  • Failure to Register as a Sex Offender Charges in Florida
    If you were convicted of a sex crime, one of the collateral consequences you will face is mandatory registration as a sex offender.
  • Statutes of Limitations and Sexual Assault
    The sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby have focused attention on statutes of limitations for cases involving rape, and whether or not they should exist at all.
  • Can I Get My Name Removed from an Offender List?
    If a person commits certain sexual crimes in North Carolina, his or her name can be added to a sex offender registry. Being added to this list requires the convicted individual to register his or her name, address and other information so that his or her whereabouts are known by the public and law enforcement.
  • Can Federal Restitution Be Forgiven?
    Federal restitution may be ordered after a person has committed a crime and the court wishes to compensate the victim for this crime. Based on current law, federal restitution orders not expire until they have been repaid in full. Generally, federal restitution cannot be discharged with bankruptcy.
  • Is There a Such Thing as Marital Rape?
    Marital rape is nonconsensual sex between two spouses. Marital rape is believed to occur in significant numbers but is underreported. However, this sexual crime may be treated differently than other sexual crimes, depending on the law of the jurisdiction where the charge is filed.
  • Can a Minor Be Charged with Statutory Rape?
    Children seem to grow up faster today than ever before. As a result, many teens feel the pressure to enter into sexual relationships with their peers at younger and younger ages. This has created an interesting dilemma in the law regarding whether one minor can be charged with statutory rape for having a sexual relationship with another minor.
  • Bill Cosby's Latest Sexual Assault Accusations
    Comedian and actor, Bill Cosby, is no stranger to the spotlight, but his recent media attention has not been favorable.
  • New Rules for UVA Frat Parties Aim to Boost Campus Safety
    The University of Virginia has issued strict guidelines to its fraternities in effort to improve safety at parties. The move was made following a highly publicized and controversial rape scandal that led to a mandatory suspension of all Greek social activities at the university.
  • All Criminal Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Criminal Law including: arson, assault, battery, bribery, burglary, child abuse, child pornography, computer crime, controlled substances, credit card fraud, criminal defense, criminal law, drugs and narcotics, DUI, DWI, embezzlement, fraud, expungements, felonies, homicide, identity theft, manslaughter, money laundering, murder, perjury, prostitution, rape, RICO, robbery, sex crimes, shoplifting, theft, weapons, white collar crime and wire fraud.

Rape Law - US

  • ABA - Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) - Sexual Violence

    The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) will partner with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Bar Association and the Judges’ Association to develop and implement a series of capacity-building trainings for the police, prosecutors, judges and magistrates to promote more effective investigation, prosecution and adjudication of gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual violence cases.

  • DOJ - Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003

    Congress enacted the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA)[1] to address the problem of sexual abuse of persons in the custody of U.S. correctional agencies. PREA calls for Federal, State, and local corrections systems to have a zero-tolerance policy regarding prison rape (as defined by PREA) in prisons, jails, police lock-ups, and other confinement facilities.

  • FBI - Forcible Rape

    Forcible rape, as defined in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Assaults and attempts to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded.

  • National Center for Victims of Crime - Spousal Rape Laws

    Until the late 1970's, most states did not consider spousal rape a crime. Typically, spouses were exempted from the sexual assault laws. For example, until 1993 North Carolina law stated that "a person may not be prosecuted under this article if the victim is the person's legal spouse at the time of the commission of the alleged rape or sexual offense unless the parties are living separate and apart." These laws are traceable to a pronouncement by Michael Hale, who was Chief Justice in England in the 17th century, that a husband cannot be guilty of rape of his wife "for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto the husband which she cannot retract." (1) In the late 1970's, feminists began efforts to change these laws. Currently, rape of a spouse is a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

  • National Institute of Justice - Rape and Sexual Violence

    The term "sexual violence" refers to a specific constellation of crimes including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. The perpetrator may be a stranger, acquaintance, friend, family member, or intimate partner. Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers agree that all forms of sexual violence harm the individual, the family unit, and society and that much work remains to be done to enhance the criminal justice response to these crimes.

  • Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)

    he Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides national leadership in developing the nation's capacity to reduce violence against women through the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Created in 1995, OVW administers financial and technical assistance to communities across the country that are developing programs, policies, and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

  • Rape - Overview

    A criminal offense defined in most states as forcible sexual relations with a person against that person's will. Rape is the commission of unlawful sexual intercourse or unlawful sexual intrusion. Rape laws in the United States have been revised over the years, and they vary from state to state.

  • Statutory Rape Laws by State

    Most states do not refer specifically to statutory rape; instead they use designations such as sexual assault and sexual abuse to identify prohibited activity. Regardless of the designation, these crimes are based on the premise that until a person reaches a certain age, he is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. Thus, instead of including force as a criminal element, theses crimes make it illegal for anyone to engage in sexual intercourse with anyone below a certain age, other than his spouse. The age of consent varies by state, with most states, including Connecticut, setting it at age 16. The age of consent in other states ranges from ages 14 to 18.

  • Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act

    On October 28, 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (P.L. 106-386). This law, which passed Congress on October 11, 2000, by overwhelming margins, combines the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Included in the legislation protecting victims of domestic violence and trafficking in persons are several provisions related to immigrants, summarized below.

  • WomensHealth.gov - Date Rape Drugs

    These are drugs that are sometimes used to assist a sexual assault. Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity that a person does not agree to. It can include touching that is not okay; putting something into the vagina; sexual intercourse; rape; and attempted rape. These drugs are powerful and dangerous. They can be slipped into your drink when you are not looking. The drugs often have no color, smell, or taste, so you can't tell if you are being drugged. The drugs can make you become weak and confused — or even pass out — so that you are unable to refuse sex or defend yourself. If you are drugged, you might not remember what happened while you were drugged. Date rape drugs are used on both females and males.

State Sex Offender Registry

Organizations Related to Rape Law

  • An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection (AARDVARC)

    The organization was formed in 1996 and incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2001 (IRS ruling received in 2004) by former victims of relationship and family violence for the purposes of assisting others to find resources, receive guidance, and enjoy the support and empathy of others who have "been there, done that". We went from victims to advocates - leaving our abusive situations and going on to run battered women's shelters or to work as police officers, 911 dispatchers, victim advocates, or counselors.

  • Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW)

    The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), coordinated by the U.S. Department of Justice, is a cooperative effort between Jurisdictions hosting public sex offender registries (“Jurisdictions”) and the federal government. These Jurisdictions include the 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the District of Columbia, and participating tribes. This Website is a search tool allowing a user to submit a single national query to obtain information about sex offenders through a number of search options.

  • National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

    The National Sexual Violence Resource Center serves as the nation’s principle information and resource center regarding all aspects of sexual violence. It provides national leadership, consultation and technical assistance by generating and facilitating the development and flow of information on sexual violence intervention and prevention strategies. The NSVRC works to address the causes and impact of sexual violence through collaboration, prevention efforts and the distribution of resources.

  • National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center (NVAWPRC).

    Mission and Goals: To help prevent violence against women by advancing knowledge about prevention research and fostering collaboration among advocates, practitioners, policy makers, and researchers.

  • Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) - Rape

    With the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding from OVC, state agencies within the United States and U.S. territories have established compensation programs to reimburse crime victims and assistance programs to offer victim services.

  • Rape Crisis Centrer - Serving Children, Women and Men

    Every day tragedy meets someone who is victimized by sexual violence. The Rape Crisis Center for Children & Adults is there, providing immediate crisis care, support, and hope to those individuals and families afflicted by this horrific crime.

  • Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

    The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at rainn.org, and publicizes the hotline's free, confidential services; educates the public about sexual assault; and leads national efforts to prevent sexual assault, improve services to victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner - Sexual Assault Response Team (SANE-SART)

    The goal of this Web site is to provide information and technical assistance to individuals and institutions interested in developing new SANE-SART programs or improving existing ones.

  • Women's Justice Center - Special for Rape Victims

    Our mission: tto provide advocacy, free of charge, for victims of rape, domestic violence, and child abuse, particularly in the Latina and other under served communities of Sonoma County. To provide advocacy training and community education. To coordinate the Task Force on Women in Policing with the goal of increasing the number of women and minorities in our law enforcement agencies. To commit to equal justice for all women and girls.

Publications Related to Rape Law

  • Rape Crisis Blog

    This blog was created in order to bring to the forefront the sad reality of rape victims throughout the world in the 21st century. Currently I'm collecting every piece of information I can find regarding this subject, and put it here with reference to the origin.

  • Rape Prevention Education - FAQs

    This page answers some of the questions we get asked about sexual abuse and rape. Select the question you want to find out the answer to and you can then choose whether you want to read the answer or watch Vickie or Rachel answer it in person.

  • WordPress.com - Rape

    Open source WordPress has been incredibly successful and risen from a handful of users to the most-used blog tool in its category.

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