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Sex Offenses: Children - Historical Developments

sexual statute female intercourse

Early English laws defining sexual offenses against children provided the foundation upon which later American laws were constructed. The first such law, the Statute of Westminster I from 1275 A.D., stated that none should "ravish, nor take away by force, any Maiden within Age, neither by her own consent, nor without." The offense was a misdemeanor punished by "two years imprisonment and fine at the king's pleasure," and applied only to sexual intercourse with a female "within Age"–defined by most commentators as under twelve years old. Forms of sexual activity with a female child that did not involve sexual intercourse were not prohibited by English statute until late in the nineteenth century.

Jurisdictions in the United States incorporated into the common law and statutes of the states variations on the Statute of Westminster I and its successors. Thus, from their inception until the first half of the twentieth century, all states recognized sexual intercourse between an adult male and a female child as a crime, commonly labeling the offense carnal knowledge of a child or statutory rape. However, most states did little beyond this to proscribe sexual conduct between adults and children.

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