Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Explaining statutory rape

Explaining statutory rape

March 19, 2014

Q. Can you explain statutory rape to me? I’m 14 and my boyfriend is 18. My mom says if we have sex it will be rape no matter what I say. I think she’s just trying to scare me into not having sex. We haven’t even done anything. Is she telling the truth? We love each other. My mom says I can talk with her and she wants to know if I’m going to have sex so she can get me on birth control. I don’t believe her. I think it’s a trap so she can ground me from seeing him.


Mary Jo’s Response: She is telling you the truth.

I’d like to discuss two issues with you. The first is a direct response to your question and will explain the concept of statutory rape or sexual assault. The second deals with making wise choices.

Pennsylvania’s laws about age of consent are specific to this state, since each state has the right to determine when a young person is deemed mature enough to make an informed choice regarding sexual involvement. In Pennsylvania the age of consent is 16. Here is the actual law: Statutory sexual assault includes sexual intercourse with a child who is 13, 14 or 15, when the defendant is at least four years older than the victim. This offense is a second-degree felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to 10 years in prison, or both. (

In other words, if one person is under the age of 16 and the other individual is four or more years older, regardless of consent, the act of intercourse is considered sexual assault. Consent refers to agreeing to the act. You and your boyfriend fall into this scenario.

My concern for you deals with more than legal issues. I am always interested in healthy relationships. Love can be very confusing. Being in love doesn’t mean a relationship is healthy and falling in love doesn’t mean two people are ready for sex.

I’d like to suggest the following:

1. Stop and think: How do you really feel about having sex? First – separate your feelings from your boyfriend’s feelings. I’m asking you to consider how you feel personally. Are you ready emotionally? I tell my students there is no condom you can put on your heart. Have you considered how you would feel if your relationship ended after you were involved sexually? Do you and your boyfriend share values? Do you know your personal morals and values about sex? Would you feel guilt or regret if you have sex? How would you be treated at school when your peers discover you’ve had sex? Trust me, they will find out. Asking these difficult questions before sex is important. Having sex at your age is a big deal, no matter what your friends may say.

2. Communicate with your mom: I know right now you think she’s trying to frighten you into avoiding sexual involvement, but she’s opened a door. She’s not naïve. She knows you care about your boyfriend and is probably worried. Be honest with her. You haven’t ‘done anything’ – share with her. Tell her any concerns you may have. Love doesn’t erase anxiety about a partner. Your mom was 14 once. I suggest believing her. Why would she trap you? If she wanted to ground you from seeing your boyfriend she could have done so. Make her an ally. Let her help you sort through your feelings.

3. Communicate with your boyfriend: Have you discussed your answers to the above questions with him? He needs to know how you feel. Are you both prepared for possible consequences? Have you talked about protection and preventing an unwanted pregnancy or STIs. Does he realize how your life would change if you had a baby at 14? If he really loves you in a mature way, he would do anything he can to protect you from such a life-changing event. He would be willing to wait to protect you. Are you willing to wait and discuss how to make a wise choice?

4. Meet with me: I won’t make a decision for you, but I’ve helped thousands of young people sort through their feelings about sexual involvement. Your mom can attend, your boyfriend can meet with me, and we can meet alone (I actually prefer we meet alone first, and then add your boyfriend and your mom at different meetings). There’s no cost to meet with me. You have my cell number – text me a few dates/ times when you’re available. I teach most days so after 3 p.m. works best.

Doing the right thing for you is important. Making wise choices now will help you all your life. I look forward to meeting with you.

Youth Champions:

Our 21st Youth Conference will be March 27, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Rossin Center of Washington & Jefferson College. The conference theme is Exploring Culture: Past (1964), Present (2014), and Future (2064); it completes our seventh Ambassador for Respect program. This year’s focus is Respect for Older Adults. (Some members of our teen executive board thought an “older adult” was a person over 45!) The winning video for our Respect contest was created by Maya Wells of Washington High School. She interviewed John Campbell. Maya’s video will be played for the first time at the conference, where she will receive her $500 prize.

Adult mentors who are able to provide a personal perspective to the '60s will help facilitate the conference along with members of our Adolescent Advisory Board. The following volunteers will share wisdom with our young people: Park Burroughs, John Campbell, Dick Feldstein, Rachel Gladden, Tom Gladden, Rich Podgurski, Bill Price, Susan Price, and John Tecklenberg. Thank you to these outstanding adults.



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