Did former Representative Mark Foley commit a crime? It’s far from clear, says the Los Angeles Times. If he had sex with a page in the District of Columbia, it wouldn’t be a crime because the age of consent is 16, the same as the minimum age to be a page. In Foley’s home state of Florida, it is a felony for anyone 24 or older to have sexual relations with someone younger than 18. A hodgepodge of state and federal laws on sex crimes will pose a challenge for authorities looking into Foley’s conduct. Federal law makes it a crime to use the Internet to entice or solicit sex from minors, but charges cannot be brought unless the actions would constitute crimes in the states where they occurred.
The trend in state laws has been to raise the age of the minor protected under criminal statutory rape laws, without criminalizing sexual activity between peers. “Do you really want a 17-year-old who has had sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend to have a lifetime stigma?” asked Howard Davidson, of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law. Some conservatives believe that an age of consent lower than 18 sends the wrong message to teens and their partners. Laws that make it a crime to use the Internet to entice or solicit sex from minors have been interpreted narrowly. Some courts have held that words are not enough to constitute criminal conduct, says Prof. Peter Swire, of Ohio State University’s law school. ”