Who’s to Blame? Perceptions of Adolescents’ Maturity and Responsibility in Sexual Relationships With an Older Partner

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The wide variation in statutory rape and consent laws across states demonstrates a lack of consensus regarding adolescents’ competency to make sexual decisions. This study investigated perceptions of adolescents’ sexual relationships with older partners from 2 different samples: a sample of young adults and a sample of parents of teenagers. Younger partner age and partner age difference were varied across 15 vignettes. Participants (N = 229) read each vignette, and then rated the younger partner’s maturity and both partners’ responsibility for the sexual relationship. Though young adults rated the younger partner as more mature and responsible than the parents did, both young adults and parents viewed adolescents as more able to consent and more responsible for sexual relationships as the age of the younger partner increased and partner age difference decreased. These results suggest that statutory rape and consent laws that consider factors such as partner age difference may be viewed more legitimately than those with strict ages of consent.

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