Warning to Delawareans:

Delaware Code title 11, § 770 sets the age of consent at 16, but at 18 if the perpetrator is over age 30. Now I see some sense in “Romeo and Juliet” statutes that legalize (for instance) sex between 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds, or even 16-year-olds and 19-year-olds, but bar sex between 16-year-olds and 24-year-olds. I suppose the theory there would be that when people are closer in age, the relationship is less likely to be exploitative or casual; I’m not sure whether this is right, but it’s at least plausible.

Still, does it make sense to have the cutoff be age 30? I can understand people concluding that once a girl reaches 16, she ought to be able to make her own decisions. I can understand them concluding that girls aren’t mature enough to make decisions until they’re 18. I can understand them saying that sex when the age gap is four or fewer years is different than when the age gap is twelve years. But if you let 28-year-olds have sex with 16-year-olds, what’s the point of barring 30-year-olds from doing the same?

I realize the “he could be old enough to be her father” situation may seem icky to some people, but I don’t see that as reason enough to draw a legal distinction here. (Incidentally, the statute has a separate provision outlawing sex with 16- or 17-year-olds by a person who “stands in a position of trust, authority or supervision over the child, or is an invitee or designee of a person who stands in a position of trust, authority or supervision over the child.”)

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