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Abstract

Statutory rape laws are intended to protect minors below the age of consent from engaging in behavior that, although not forceful, may be harmful. Two studies explored how individual judgments of adolescent sexual behavior and statutory rape are affected by victim age, perpetrator age, and the age span between partners. Across studies, respondents were significantly more critical of scenarios depicting younger victims, older perpetrators, and larger age spans between the two. These findings, using indirect measures, suggest that college students believe 16 is an appropriate age of consent and that sexual acts between adolescents who are within 2 years of age should not be criminalized.