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Can Minors Be Charged with Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania?


Sexual abuse by minors in Pennsylvania is far more common than most people would imagine.

Most cases of sexual abuse of minors that we hear about on the news involve adult males abusing young girls or boys, especially within institutional settings or organizations where adults have direct access to minors because of their profession.

These are well-publicized but we rarely hear about minors being charged with sexual assault.

So, how prevalent is it and how is it handled in Pennsylvania? Can a minor go to prison here if convicted of sexual assault against another minor?

How common is sexual abuse by minors in Pennsylvania?

Many people are surprised to learn how common sexual abuse is against minors by minors: over 40 percent of sexual abuse cases against children are perpetrated by other minors, typically males aged between 12 and 14.

The general rule is that the younger the victim, the more likely it is that the perpetrator is a minor. If the victim is under six years old, the offender is a minor 43 percent of the time — of which, 14 percent are under the age of 12.

What sexual abuse charges can a minor face in Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania statutes define sexual assault as “sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse without the complainant’s consent.” It is illegal in Pennsylvania regardless of age.

Minors who sexually abuse or assault other minors do not escape criminal charges just because they are under the age of 18. Criminal charges can and will be laid against offenders if there is enough evidence of wrongdoing.

Sexual assault is a wide-ranging term that incorporates many wrongful acts and it should not be used interchangeably with rape (which is a type of sexual assault).

Any sexual assault offense is taken extremely seriously in Pennsylvania and is usually classed as a second-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in state prison. Some offenses like rape are first-class felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison (or more in certain aggravated cases).

The general age of consent in Pennsylvania is 16 years of age. However, where two minors are involved, the laws have been designed to consider this differently than when a minor has sexual contact with an adult.

Accordingly, minors between the ages of 13 and 15 cannot consent to sexual activities with a person four or more years older than them. So, a relationship between a 13 and 17-year-old would be considered statutory rape, even though both individuals are minors.

A minor who commits an act of sexual abuse against anyone under the age of 13 may also be charged criminally. That’s because no one under the age of 13 in Pennsylvania is considered legally able to consent to any sexual activity at all.

As such, any sexual relationship involving a minor under the age of 13 would be considered illegal, regardless of the age of the other partner in the relationship.

When are minors charged as adults for sexual assault in Pennsylvania?

Most sexual abuse charges for minors are heard in juvenile court in Pennsylvania. These crimes are usually classed as misdemeanors.

Generally speaking, minors are more responsive to treatment than adults, so they are often afforded opportunities to rehabilitate rather than just serving a sentence in a detention facility.

However, if the crime is especially serious (for instance, a weapon was used or the victim was raped) and/or the offender is an older minor, he/she can be charged as an adult and face more serious penalties.

Fortunately, the law is nuanced enough to recognize that a 17-year-old offender and a 10-year-old offender must be treated differently.

A case against a minor who will be tried as an adult will be transferred from the juvenile court to the federal court in Pennsylvania. This makes the possibility of extensive prison time served in an adult prison more likely in the event of a guilty verdict.

Common warning signs of child sexual abuse

Parents, teachers and those in positions of authority over children should all educate themselves about the warning signs of minor sexual abuse.

Many roles have mandatory reporting obligations: notably, those who “in the practice of their employment, occupation or practice of a profession, come into contact with children and have reasonable cause to suspect that a child under the care, supervision, guidance, or training of that person or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse.”

The most common warning signs of sexual abuse are:

  • Notable changes in personality, behavior or moods
  • Nightmares
  • Self-harm
  • Visible injuries
  • Reduced interest in school
  • Lack of interest in friends

Many children do not speak up about sexual abuse because they are confused, frightened or ashamed, and sometimes there are no physical signs of abuse.

This makes it difficult to identify, and so it is critical to raise a red flag if you notice any unexplained negative behavioral changes in a child. Start by contacting a professional like a teacher who has regular contact with your child and report your concerns about your child.

If you are aware of a sexual abuse incident involving a minor and want to discuss it, contact the sexual abuse lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote, PC for a free and confidential consultation, or you can call us directly at 866-311-8640.

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