SilhouettesIn a prior article, we explored the differences between state laws punishing certain teens for engaging in sexual behavior and exempting other teens from punishment based on the closeness in age between the teens. These laws are called “age-gap laws.” To review, the laws vary widely in terms of what sexual behavior between peers is viewed as legal and what is not. In some states, peers will not be prosecuted when the age difference between them is two years; in others, up to six years difference is acceptable. In some states, the age-gap laws are not effective until the teens are at least a threshold age, such as 15-years-old. In other states, the age-gap laws apply regardless of how young the youngest teen is.

This article continues our exploration of whether we can determine a principled approach to age-gap laws based on information about adolescent development. As we know, adolescence is a time when peer relationships change. More time and interaction is spent with contemporaries and less time is spent with adults. As noted above, we described in our recent article how states differ considerably regarding their legal definition of “peer” as it pertains to peer-on-peer child sexual abuse. In part, this research confirmed how contradictory are our views of child and teenage sexuality.

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