Below the Age of Consent: Influences on Moral and Legal Judgments of Adult–Adolescent Sexual Relationships1


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    The authors thank Hannah Davy for her assistance in data collection for Study 2.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Miranda Horvath, Child & Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University, 62–66 Highbury Grove, London, N5 2AD. E-mail:


Sexual age-of-consent violations involving adult–adolescent relationships (AARs) are sometimes viewed with ambivalence by the media and are infrequently prosecuted. Two studies conducted in Britain (where the age of consent is 16) examined influences on disapproval of minimally presented AARs between a 14-year-old and a 30-year-old. In Study 1, AARs involving an older man were seen as more harmful and objectionable than those involving an older woman. A second study on a jury-eligible adult population replicated Study 1's gender effects, and also found a difference between legal knowledge and personal belief that the older person had committed a crime. Gender effects in both studies were mediated by perceived harm and emotions.