What is the age of consent for a sexual/romantic relationship in Indiana?
Absent a "special relationship," the age of consent in Indiana is 16. However, just because the legal age is 16 (generally speaking), there are many issues that must be considered carefully in such a relationship. Teen pregnancies are rampant and change the young parents' lives forever.
What is the age of consent in Indiana?The age of consent in Indiana, generally speaking (and without a "special relationship" is 16. (See, IC 35-42-4-3). Please note, this age is lower than many states and the information contained herein relates to Indiana laws only. However, this must be a "consensual relationship." A minor under the age of 16 is not considered legally old enough to consent, even if they are "older." (Please note, Romeo & Juliet Laws may apply for two younger minors in a consenting romantic relationship, as explained in more detail in the next section of this guide.) For instance, a person commits the crime of sexual misconduct in Indiana by engaging in any sexual conduct with a child over the age of 14 but under the age of 16. Sexual misconduct is punished more severely if: the defendant is over the age of 21 the sexual conduct includes sexual intercourse, penetration, or the defendant uses force or violence or engages in sexual conduct without the child's consent. (Ind. Code Ann. Sect. 35-42-4-9.) Just because the person is 16 and can "legally consent," this does not preclude them from later alleging their were forced, because forced relationships are never legal. Further, under no circumstances should nude pictures be taken or shared because this inevitably leads to endless problems and is a different legal issue altogether.
What if I am 18 or younger and I am involved in a romantic relationship with a minor?"Romeo and Juliet" defenses protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sex with others close to their own age (e.g. within 4 years). In Indiana, it is a defense to a charge of sexual misconduct (except by force or violence) that: the defendant is under the age of 21 and not more than four years older than the victim, and the defendant and the victim were in an ongoing personal relationship. (Ind. Code Ann. Sect. 35-42-4-9.) For example, an 18-year-old who is romantically involved with a 15-year-old could assert this defense and hope to avoid criminal charges or conviction. However, practically speaking, having such a relationship while "potentially legal" can lead to other serious complications and consequences. It is best to make such a serious decision in your life when both parties are emotionally mature enough to handle such a relationship and the ramifications of a romantic relationship at a young age. Once a young woman becomes pregnant, there are decisions one must make that will affect the rest of one's life. Additionally, most parents do not accept/approve of such relationships, (understandably so) and you must consider the repercussions of engaging in such a relationship with a minor and having to deal with his or her parents' reaction. There are other financial, emotional, and physical repercussions for engaging in a romantic relationship at such a young age, all which could have dire consequences. However, the point of this guide is to provide pertinent laws and helpful information and the rest is up to you.
What are "special relationships"? What is "Child Seduction"?While anyone can commit child molestation or sexual misconduct, only a person over the age of 18 in a position of supervision or trust over a child can commit the crime of child seduction. A person who engages in any sexual activity with a child over the age of 16 but under the age of 18 commits child seduction where the defendant is: the child's guardian, adoptive parent, adoptive grandparent, or stepparent the child's teacher or an employee of the child's school, or a military recruiter who is attempting to enlist the child. (Ind. Code Ann. Sect. 35-42-4-7.) For example, a teacher or a legal guardian who sleeps with a 17-year-old student or minor is guilty of child seduction.
What if I make a mistake as to a person's age?Defenses Indiana law provides important defense to statutory rape. In many states, a defendant's mistaken belief as to a child's age is not a defense to a statutory rape. However, in Indiana, it is a defense in some sex crimes that: the defendant mistakenly believed the child to be of a particular age the defendant's belief was reasonable (supported by the circumstances-please note--this is factually based), and if the child were that age, the conduct at issue would not be criminal. For example, if the child said that he or she was 17 years old, and other people told the defendant that the child was 17 years old, and the child was friendly with other 17 and 18-year-old children, then a defendant might be (please note this is not conclusive) able to avoid a conviction for sexual misconduct. This defense does not apply in cases of sexual misconduct by force or violence, because that conduct is criminal no matter what the victim's age. (Ind. Code Ann. Sects. 35-41-3-7, 35-42-4-9; Lechner v. State, 715 N.E.2d 1285 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999).) Please note, this is only a potential defense, not unequivocal, and very narrowly tailored to the facts and circumstances at hand. For instance, even if a person mistakenly believes the minor is 16 (or even older) and they are only 14, that will not be a defense. The minor must be at least 15 in the case of a consenting adult relationship to raise the defense of mistaken age. (See, IC 35-42-4-3 (c)). Also, as there are many exceptions to these rules, (for instance, the use of force, violence, or drugs are never excused in any circumstances) and this guide is general information and citation to Indiana's pertinent laws. The best way to protect yourself is to not get involved with a minor romantic relationship and wait until both parties are physically and emotionally mature to handle such a relationship. However, in the event you do find yourself in such a situation, or you have been charged or investigated for a crime in connection with a relationship with a minor, and/or you are questioned in such a relationship, do not make any statements, and seek the advice, expertise, and guidance of experienced counsel immediately.