It is not illegal for a 20 year old to “date” a 17 year old.
The trouble begins if the 20 year old lives in a state that makes certain kinds of physical contact between adults and minors illegal.
Can A 20 Year Old Date A 17 Year Old? (EXPLAINED)
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What Contact Between A 20 Year Old and 17 Year Old Is Illegal?
As noted above, the “dating” part of the interaction between someone 20 and someone 17 isn’t illegal, per se.
Unless the 20 year old is taking the 17 year old 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 young people watching movies, bowling, hanging out with friends, going out to eat, taking approved trips, etc.
However, when the 20 year old and the 17 year old want to engage in the physical aspects of the relationship, the 20 year old likely finds him or herself at 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, as well, as most states go beyond the ultimate act of physical love and have rules against even small types of intimate contact, such as kissing or even patting someone’s behind, if the contact was intended to be intimate.
Are There Exceptions To The Rules That Would Allow A 20 Year Old and 17 year Old To Have Intimate Contact?
Yes, there are, in some states.
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).
Other states put other limits on the elder partner if the younger is 17; some states allow intimate relations between 17 year olds and those up to the age of 21, while other states allow the older to be up to 23 years of age.
Each state is different, as far as whether there are exceptions, so you’ll want to check the specifics of the state where you live (or where the contact would occur/has occurred).
We recommend against just trusting a random website (like this one) or other forums if the post says “go ahead, have fun!”, even if the people answering the questions on the forums are attorneys, because different states have different laws on this topic.
What is being gambled is worth some additional investigation.
What Happens If A 17 Year Old And A 20 Year Old Have Intimate Contact?
Well, aside from the usual potential outcomes of intimate contact (such as disease, babies, or disappointment), nothing in the courts will necessarily happen.
After all, the local authorities would need to have knowledge of the contact to file charges.
In some cases, 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 20 Year Old?
Many situations can result in charges being filed against the 20 year old, if the parties live in a state that criminalize intimate contact between a 20 year old and a 17 year old.
The first is that the 20 year old didn’t truly have consent from the 17 year old, and then 17 year old disclosed the details of the interaction.
If the contact wasn’t consensual, then it is unlikely that the Romeo and Juliet exception(s) (or any other) would apply.
The second is that the 20 year old ends the relationship with the 17 year old, and the 17 year old (disappointed and sad) tells her parents or friends, who then pass on the information about the intimate relationship.
Enraged parents carry the details to the police, leading to prosecution.
The third situation commonly seen is that the 20 year old treats the younger individual in a cavalier manner (one night stand, ignores him/her after, etc) creating a person who tells 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 police.
Sometimes information reaches teachers, who have mandatory reporting requirements as it relates to abuse/assault.
In the end, if the cops 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 20 Year Old Who Wants A Relationship With A 17 Year Old?
First, do your homework. Confirm the laws of the state you are in.
After doing research, the best way for a 20 year old to be 100% safe from prosecution due to age-related intimate allegations is to avoid intimacy of any kind with someone who is not yet 18.
While there are sometimes exceptions to the laws barring that contact due to closeness in age, these exceptions will not protect the 20 year old in the event that the 17 year old reports at the contact was in any way non-consensual.
Without trying to belittle or victim blame/shame, there are instances where young people 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 due to lack of maturity.
The result of such allegations can be life-long damage, and a “failure to launch” kind of life for a young person.
In general, the best case scenario for a 20 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 17 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.
Should A 20 Year Old Kiss A 17 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 20 year old to avoid getting into legal trouble with a 17 year old is to just not mess with a 17 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 (aside from a marriage) where the parents can consent to intimate physical contact between their minor child and an adult.
If the parents say go ahead, and then contact between a minor and an adult is somehow reported to the authorities, the adult can still be prosecuted, regardless of what the parents want the prosecutor to do.
The prosecutor (and law enforcement) have the 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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