Over at Sex Crimes I learned that a case is being discussed on various blogs where the defendant was found not guilty of the non-statutory rape charges, but found guilty on the statutory charges. The alleged victim was allegedly assaulted (the defendant of course claimed that the sex was consensual) the day before her 16th birthday and apparently in common law that's when she became 16 years old.
A quote from the Volokh Conspiracy:
The law would not have treated the 16-year-old as being in need of protection against consensual sex (nonconsensual sex is a different matter, but he was charged on that separately, and partly convicted and partly acquitted).
Statutory rape laws are not on the whole designed to protect people, especially children, from giving their full legal consent, but exist because so many people wouldn't recognize lack of legal consent if they were jurors. If they themselves did recognize it, they still may feel there is reasonable doubt that the defendant would recognize lack of true consent.
Without the statutory rape laws many real rapists would walk away from court with zero punishment. So when I hear people saying that those convicted of statutory rape charges are not real rapists, I shake my head at their attitudes. There may be a few who are guilty of statutory rapes who aren't rapists or exploiters, but they are by far the exception.
Statutory rape laws make it clear that those who want sex should leave certain groups completely alone. Any softening of this protection by basing the conviction or law on perceived age vs. real age lets predators and opportunists off the hook.
The backlash I've seen against statutory rape laws pitches the idea that children today are sexually savvy before they hit puberty and therefore anyone who responds to this so-called sexual maturity is being victimized if they are charged with any crime at all. This view is very self-serving since it provides a handy rationalization for the sexual exploitation of children. The adult becomes the hapless victim to predatory children.