Politics

The state House of Representatives has passed a bill that would expand Kentucky’s rape and sodomy laws, making it illegal for 16- and 17-year-olds to have sex with people age 28 or older.

Current Kentucky law allows for 16- or 17-year-olds to have consensual sex.

Rep. Jason Petrie, a Republican from Elkton, said the legislation would provide more protections for young Kentuckians.

“If you are 16 or 17 and someone 28 years of age older involves you — engages in sodomy or rape at that age difference — it is a statutory rape or statutory sodomy,” Petrie said.

Under the proposal, adults over age 28 could be charged with third degree rape, a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Language in the legislation allows such adults to use “lack of knowledge of the victim’s age being 16 or 17” as a defense to charges. During a debate on the House floor, Petrie said he would be “hard-pressed” to believe a jury would “find it credible to say I didn’t know the person.”

Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat from Louisville, said she wasn’t convinced.

“While I would hope that the jury in Jefferson County would make that decision — or in any county in Kentucky — I am not convinced that that is indeed the case,” Scott said. “To me this sounds like what we saw in Alabama with Roy Moore.”

State law already allows defendants to fight statutory rape and sodomy charges by claiming they didn’t know a victim’s age if they are younger than 16 years old.

This proposal would expand that to include victims who are 16 and 17 years old.

The state Senate will now consider the legislation.

Another bill filed in the state Senate would raise the marriage age to 18 years old. Currently, state law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent. Children younger than that can get married if the girl is pregnant.

According to a KyCIR investigation last year, more than 11,000 minors got married in Kentucky over the last 17 years, some as young as 13 years old.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.