High-school sweetheart, or sex offender?

In Illinois, it's illegal for two people under the age of 17 to have sex, even if both consent. A conviction can include jail time and a hefty fine.

It may seem extreme when you're talking about two willing 16-year-olds. Although it's probably enforced less in this situation, it does come up, especially in cases of teen pregnancy.

In the example of two 16 year olds, the offense would be criminal sexual abuse. It's a misdemeanor. The punishment is up to a year in jail and up to a $2500 fine, although probation is an option.

If the perpetrator is 5 years older than the victim, or older, it becomes aggravated criminal sexual abuse, which is a felony. So if you're talking about a 21 year old and a 16 year old, it's more serious, which makes sense.

However, both types of convictions require sex offender registration, even the misdemeanor. The Illinois sex offender registry is public. The list is online and includes names, addresses, pictures, and the crime committed. You have to register each year for 10 years. You have to submit address changes. You aren't allowed within 500 feet of a school. You may have to register in additional locations if you spend time there.

The point is that the law is pretty strict, and there are severe consequences. Even a teenager in a relationship with another teenager can be branded a sex offender. It can affect their education, career, etc., for a decade or more.

We're not saying there shouldn't be a law protecting underage people from sexual abuse, of course there should be. It just worries us that there are such severe consequences for situations where there is no actual abuse going on.


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