It is not illegal for a 19 year old to “date” a 16 year old.
The trouble begins if the 19 year old lives in a state that makes certain kinds of physical contact between adults and minors illegal.
Can A 19 Year Old Date A 16 Year Old? (EXPLAINED)
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What Contact Between A 19 Year Old and 16 Year Old Is Illegal?
As noted above, the “dating” part of the interaction between someone 19 and someone 16 isn’t illegal, per se.
Unless the 19 year old is taking the 16 year old away from the home, out to places against the wishes of the parents or is trespassing on the family property, there is little to worry about from the legal standpoint.
This means that there should be no problems with the two people of any age watching movies, bowling, hanging out with friends, going out to eat, taking approved trips, etc.
However, when the 19 year old and the 16 year old want to engage in the physical aspects of the relationship, the 19 year old can find him or herself at significant risk.
In general, every state and jurisdiction at the state and federal level has written laws against intimate physical contact between someone under the age of 18 with someone over the age of 18.
The definition of intimate contact matters very much, as most states go beyond the ultimate act of physical love and have prohibitions against even small types of contact, such as closed mouth kissing, sitting on someone’s lap, or even briefly patting someone’s behind, if the contact was intended to be intimate.
Are There Exceptions To The Rules That Would Allow A 19 Year Old and 16 year Old To Have Intimate Contact?
Yes, there are, in some states exceptions.
But not all.
In some states, the rule is absolutely…don’t touch a minor at all for intimate purposes, or in any situation that could be construed as intimate.
In other states, there is what is called a “Romeo and Juliet Exception” (or something similar).
This provides a defense to the older member of the couple, so long as the two are within a certain number of years of age (like 1-3 years).
In general, lack of knowledge of the younger person’s age is not an exception (or a defense).
Each state is different, as far as whether there are exceptions, so it is important to check the specifics of the state where the contact would occur/has occurred.
What Happens If A 16 Year Old And A 19 Year Old Have Already Had Intimate Contact?
Well, aside from the usual potential outcomes of intimate contact (such as disease, babies, or disappointment), nothing in the criminal courts will necessarily happen.
After all, the local police and prosecutor would need to have knowledge of the contact to pursue charges.
In some situations, even if the parents or others discover the relationship, nothing ends up happening because the authorities are never notified.
What Situations Cause Charges To Be Filed Against The 19 Year Old?
While some relationships between a 16 year old and 19 year old do not result in charges, here are a few factual scenarios that regularly result in prosecutions.
The first is that the 19 year old didn’t truly have consent from the 16 year old, and 16 year old disclosed the details of the interaction after the fact to a friend, teacher, or parent.
If the contact wasn’t consensual, then it is unlikely that any Romeo and Juliet exception(s) would apply.
The second is that the 19 year old ends the relationship with the 16 year old, and the 16 year old (disappointed and sad) tells her parents or friends, who then pass on the information about the intimate relationship.
Upset parents carry the details to the police, leading to prosecution.
The third situation commonly seen is that the 19 year old treats the younger individual in a cavalier manner (one night stand, ignores him/her after, etc). The behavior encourages the young person to tell about the relationship with malice as the goal, to get back at the older member of the pair.
Again, this comes back to enraged parents, reporting the details to the authorities.
Sometimes information reaches teachers second or third hand as gossip, who have mandatory reporting requirements as it relates to abuse/assault.
In the end, if the police find out, they’ll have the decision to prepare a report, initiate citations, or pass the report on to a prosecutor who will make charging decisions.
What’s The best Way To Protect A 19 Year Old Who Wants A Relationship With A 16 Year Old?
The best way for a 19 year old to be safe from prosecution due to age-related intimate allegations is to avoid intimacy of any kind with a partner who is not yet 18.
While there are exceptions in some states to the laws barring that contact due to closeness in age, these exceptions will not protect the 19 year old in the event that the 16 year old reports at the contact was in any way non-consensual.
Without trying to belittle or victim blame/shame, there are instances where 16 year olds make allegations against their former partners in hindsight as the result of hurt or with the desire to “get back” at the person who hurt them/dumped them.
The allegations may be the truth…and they are sometimes not the truth.
The result of such allegations can be life-long damage, and a “failure to launch” kind of life for one or both of the young people.
In general, the best case scenario for a 19 year old to be safe from any sort of allegations associated with physical touching of a person under the age of 18 is to simply avoid “dating” them.
If the 16 year old is truly “the one” then the older of the pair should be able to “wait” to take the next step in the physical side of things until she is 18 years old.
Should A 19 Year Old Kiss A 16 Year Old?
We can’t give legal advice, and this question certainly requires legal advice specific to the jurisdiction where the act would occur.
In general, without having to be jurisdiction specific, the best way for a 19 year old to avoid getting into legal trouble with a 16 year old is to just not have a relationship with a 16 year old in any way, and wait until the individual is 18 years of age.
What If The Parents Are Okay With It?
We aren’t aware of any situation where the parents can consent to intimate physical contact between their minor child and an adult besides consenting to a marriage (and the marriage occurring).
If the parents say go ahead, and then contact between the 16 year old and the 19 year old (without marriage) is somehow reported to the authorities, the 19 year old can still be prosecuted if there’s no exception, regardless of what the parents want the prosecutor to do.
The prosecutor (and law enforcement) have the final authority to make charging decisions of a criminal nature, and private citizens (like parents) can provide input but have no authority on their own.
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