One of the most common questions I have been receiving as of late is whether a teenager who just turned 18 can still date his 16 year old girlfriend or does the relationship have to end?
I don’t know words like “relationship” or “dating” mean anymore. These words do mean different things to different people. But these words imply to most that the couple is having some sort of sexual contact, which depending on one’s age, can not only get you into trouble with parents or guardians, but it can also lead one to getting locked up.
Some teenagers seem to believe that an 18 year old and a 16 year old can’t go out anymore once he turns 18. That’s not true (I am assuming here that parents have no problem with the two people seeing each other. If that’s not true, that’s a different issue altogether).
Can you go out to a movie together? Sure.
Talk on the phone? Absolutely.
None of this is illegal regardless of your respective ages.
It’s when we start talking about physical contact that the law becomes involved with serious consequences for someone in the “relationship” (And photos, more on that below).
Can you hold hands? Yes.
Can you hug? Yes.
Can you kiss? Yes.
It’s when one partner touches the other’s private parts, even through clothing, that is illegal if one of you is under 17 (in the State of Illinois. The age is different depending on the State).
This may not seem fair, but the law is that you are not permitted under the law to consent to any such contact if you’re under 17. The age of consent in Illinois is 17, unless one has some sort of supervisory relationship over the other which raises the age to higher than 17 (like your boss at work).
Sexual contact has always been illegal for both partners even if both of you are under 17. If one of you is over 18 and the other is under 17, the legal difference now is that the older person (almost always the male) would be prosecuted as an adult in criminal court and not prosecuted in juvenile court.
This, depending on the specific accusation that the prosecutors could make (even against the wishes of the one under 17), can wind the older person up with being a convicted felon, prison time, and having to register as a sex offender no matter how willing the younger person was to engage in that conduct because under the law, the person under 17 cannot consent.
Going back to that subject of photographs, I have heard that lots of people in relationships like to send photos to their partners that are private and show nudity for their partner’s eyes only. If you’re under 18, do not ever send or possess such a photo. Don’t ever receive or find yourself possessing such a photo either.
Photos of someone under 18 that show nudity can be considered by law enforcement to be child pornography. Sending or receiving such a photo can have disastrous consequences. In my view, the politicians who wrote the child pornography laws weren’t really thinking of teens texting photos to each other. But this still falls under that law and prosecutors will not hesitate to use these laws to lock someone up, label that someone a child pornographer, try to send that someone to prison, and have that someone register as a sex offender.
The age for the difference between pornography and child pornography is higher than 17. So if you’re asking once you turn 17, “Wait, are you telling me I can have sex legally with my boyfriend/girlfriend, but if I photograph us having sex, we can be locked up for child pornography because I am under 18?”
Yes. That’s exactly right. Be very careful what photographs you have in your possession and your partners.