Although statutory rape laws were initially developed to protect youth from coercion by adults, youth are sometimes also prosecuted under these laws. This article investigates public attitudes regarding sanctions for youth engaging in sexual behaviors with peers. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to determine if age and gender of the offending youth, and sexual orientation of the relationship, has an impact on the public’s level of agreement for sanctioning youth for three types of sexual behavior: intercourse, oral sex, or touching. The study participants (N = 757) were drawn from the general population of adult Michigan residents; the sample was racially representative of the state but included an overrepresentation of women (66%). The findings show that respondent support for sanctions varied by the age difference between the youth. There was also an increase in level of sanction agreement by type of sexual behavior. Gender of the offending youth was not shown to significantly impact sanction agreement. Sexual orientation of the relationship was only significant for certain types of sexual activity. The public’s beliefs about youth sexual behavior is in concert with the intended goals of the juvenile justice system, in that the suggested sanctions are focused on rehabilitation for 15-year-olds. However, the public is more supportive of severe sanctions for 18- and 22-year-olds, but also suggest counseling and probation. The significance of these findings informs policymaking in that they suggest a more balanced approach for sanctioning consensual sexual relationships between youths.
- © 2014 by the Regents of the University of California.