Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 415–461 | Cite as

Sexual Consent: The Criminal Law in Europe and Overseas

  • Helmut Graupner

Abstract

What role can the criminal law play in the battle against child sexual abuse? Should sexual relations of and with, persons under a certain age be criminalized regardless of the circumstances, even if they are consensual (“age of consent,” “minimum age”)? Where should such a minimum age-limit be fixed? Should there be a special, higher age-limit for particular conditions (e.g., “seduction,” “corruption”)? Should sexual contacts with minors within a relationship of authority be criminalized generally, or just if authority is abused? Should criminal proceedings be instituted ex officio or upon complaint only? Should authorities be provided with a power of discretion or should they be obliged to prosecute and sentence in each case? In answering these questions, it is highly beneficial to have a look across the borders to the solutions other countries have reached.

This study presents an overview on the criminal law governing the sexual behavior of, and with, children and adolescents in all European jurisdictions and in selected jurisdictions outside of Europe. It shows which categories of offences exist and from which age onward young people can effectively consent to various kinds of sexual behavior and relations in the different countries. All states in Europe and all of the studied jurisdictions overseas have minimum age limits for sexual relations, and punish sexual relations with persons under a certain age. Nowhere is this age set lower than 12 years. In Europe, in one-half of the jurisdictions, consensual sexual relations with 14-year-old adolescents are legal; in three-quarters, with 15-year olds; in a majority, this is also the case when the older partner has started the relation (and also when the initiative contains an offer of remuneration). In nearly all jurisdictions, such relations are legal from age 16 onward. Most states apply a higher age limit for contacts in relationships of authority. If the authority is not misused, the age limit in most jurisdictions is set between 14 and 16; if it is misused, between 16 and 18. Most states make no difference between heterosexual and homosexual relations.

youth protection youth rights sexual offences age of consent child sexual abuse pedophilia homosexuality criminal law human rights 

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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helmut Graupner
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.ViennaAustria
  2. 2.Austrian Society for Sex Research (ÖGS)Austria
  3. 3.Austrian lesbian and gay rights organization Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL)ViennaAustria

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