Time to Talk: Teens, Sex and the Law
Article By The Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana
The Children’s Coalition and BayouLife Magazine are joining forces to provide timely information about issues concerning youth. As parents and professionals, it is critical that we not only have accurate and appropriate information, but that we are able to share it in ways that help teens make educated choices. Each month, we will interview an expert, share local data about a key issue and provide resources to help you have a conversation with your teen. This month, our focus is Louisiana law regarding teen sexual activity as it pertains to consent, age, alcohol, internet, texting, sexting and pornography.
Stacie Leblanc, MEd, JD, is executive director of two groups that serve youth; the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) and the Audrey Hepburn Children at Risk Evaluation (CARE) Center at Children’s Hospital. She is the founder of the first CAC in the state of Louisiana, became the supervisor of the Felony Child Abuse Division and began the Family Violence Unit. Staci created “Teens, Sex and the Law” to help her own children make informed choices; she presented the training this past November to parents as part of the Children’s Coalition Speaker Series and to 300 youth at the Ouachita Youth Summit.
Q: Why is it important for teens and their parents to understand the laws surrounding teen sexual activity?
A: In Louisiana, 20 percent of abused children are abused by teens in what they perceived to be consensual sex. Teenagers have a right to know the laws that criminalize their consensual sexual behavior involving other teenagers, so they can make informed decisions that last a lifetime.
Q: What is the most important thing a teenager should remember about the laws?
A: No means no at any age, but certain ages make ‘yes’ illegal. Having sexual intercourse with anyone under the age of 13 is aggravated rape and carries a mandatory life sentence, or life up to 31 years if you are a minor. Even if it is ‘just touching,’ and the party is under 13, the penalty is 25-99 years.
Q: Do the laws only protect children under the age of 13?
A: While the penalties for having sex, including oral sex with someone under 13, are more severe than the penalties for forcible rape, there are several laws that protect youth 15 and under, and others that protect youth under the age of 17. If a person between the ages of 13-17 has consensual sexual intercourse or oral sex with someone over the age of 17 when the age difference is more than 4 years, the older person can be charged with this crime even if the sexual act is consensual. The penalty is up to 10 years in jail.
Q: What if you think someone is older?
A: Lack of knowledge of a juvenile’s age is not a defense. No matter how old someone may act or look, the law only cares about the actual age. The penalties for having sex, including oral sex with someone under 13, are more severe than the penalties for forcible rape.
Q: Is “sexting” a crime?
A: Taking nude sexual pictures or videos of anyone under 17 is a crime. If a juvenile is under 13, the penalty is 25-99 years. When someone under the age of 17 possesses or transmits indecent visual depictions of sexually explicit content of someone under 17 via any communication device, the penalty is up to 6 months in prison and a minimum of 16 hours of community service.
Q: What if someone sends me a naked photo?
A: Even though you may delete it, it is still out there. It never goes away completely. Law enforcement officials can and many times do retrieve them when necessary. If someone sends you a pornographic item, you should report it to the police. If it is someone with whom you communicate, you should tell them electronically, not to send any such items again. This will provide documentation that you are not a party to such activity, because you, too, could face criminal charges.
Q: What can I do if a friend tells me that they have been sexually abused?
A: A proper response would be, “I am so sorry that
that happened to you. You’re so brave to tell. It’s not your fault. I’m here for you. I’ve got your back and other supportive responses. Help them to tell a trusted parent, teacher, counselor, pastor, coach, friend or other child advocate, who is not directly involved. You can always call 1-855-4LA-KIDS (1-855-452-5437) toll free 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to report abuse.