In 1988, Washington State set its age of consent at 16. Here is what that means and when/if exceptions apply.

What does age of consent mean?

This is the minimum age, in this case 16, when an individual is deemed legally competent to give consent for participation in sexual activities. Each state has established their own age of consent, ranging from 16 to 18.

Generally speaking, statutory rape is a “strict liability claim,” meaning that if the older individual does not know they had sex with someone under the age of consent, they can still be prosecuted.

What are Romeo and Juliet laws?

Some states have established “Romeo and Juliet laws,” that provide exceptions for statutory rape laws if the older individual is within a certain age range of the individual who is under the age of consent.

For example, in Michigan, which has Romeo and Juliet laws, if the younger person is between ages 13 and 16, and the older person’s age is within three years of the younger person’s age, the older person will not be prosecuted for statutory rape. So, if a 13-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old, the 15-year-old will not be prosecuted. But a 17-year-old would be prosecuted.

Washington State does not have Romeo and Juliet laws

Because Washington does not have Romeo and Juliet laws, sex with anyone under the age of 16 is illegal, no matter the circumstances. In theory, a 16-year-old who has sex with someone who is 15 years and 11 months of age can still be prosecuted.

There are exceptions when sex occurs between two minors that are within a certain age range. There are additional exceptions in cases when the two individuals are married, but this is extremely rare for persons in this age range and requires a special court order.

The “strict liability claim” mentioned above is not as severe in Washington as it is in other states. It’s possible for a defendant to argue that they were mistaken or misled about the age of the minor and avoid a charge of statutory rape.