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Young and in love? Some actions can have severe consequences

Romeo and Juliet is a classic love story with the saddest of endings. Because of their feuding families, they were unable to fulfill their desire for togetherness. Fulfillment of their physical longings was limited to a kiss, and Shakespeare even framed that in the context of a sin.

Views about young love are a lot different than they were years ago. Attitudes seem to be much more relaxed, but there is still a great range of difference in how that is reflected in state laws. In some states, individuals can consent to engage in sex with each other only at the age of 18. In Nebraska the age of consent is 16. One misstep on that score, even if done in ignorance, could lead to rape charges, conviction for which can have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences.

No close in age exemption

Another indication of changing social norms about love and sex is reflected in close-in-age exemptions to sex crime laws. Where these so-called Romeo and Juliet laws exist, minors who are significantly close in age and who express mutual affection for each other through sex may be able to avoid prosecution on charges that result in the harshest penalties.

Nebraska is not among the states with such a statute in place. The law relevant to this issue does stipulate that if one of the participants in a relationship is 19 years or older and the other is under 16, prosecutors could bring a charge of felony statutory rape. So, while the language of the law seems to provide legal protection for consenting minors over 16, that could be removed if one of the parties later denies consent existed or turns out to be younger than the age of consent.

Considering that differing degrees of rape and sexual assault charges can lead convictions with penalties that include years of incarceration, fines and registration as a sex offender, anyone facing such allegations needs to take them seriously and respond swiftly to protect their legal rights.

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