Age of consent laws determine the minimum age in which youngsters are legally able to consent to sexual activity. Although the age of consent varies from state to state, it is always between 16 and 18 within the U.S. Age of consent is more complex than just a hard cutoff, however. The consent laws in many states include age-gap provisions or an "affirmative defense" clause, which account for consensual teen sex within a certain age range--usually 3 years. When sexual activity occurs with a person below the age of consent, the older partner can be charged with statutory rape, sexual misconduct with a child, sexual assault, or other similar crimes. In the case of an "affirmative defense" clause, charges can still be brought, but usually aren't. In all states, it is legal to hug, kiss, hold hands, and date at any age. However, some states consider fondling or groping, even through clothing, sexual activity and the parties must be over the age of consent or within the allowable age gap. Some states also allow a "mistake of age" defense, which is when the older party had legitimate reason to believe that the minor was over the age of consent-- such as if the minor produced fake identification. Within states that allow this defense, some only allow it over a certain minimum age, preventing adults from using it to defend against sex with young teens.
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