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Until recently, statutory rape laws applied only to females, ignoring situations involving sex between an adult female and underage male.

Today, most laws are gender neutral, and a number of women in authority positions (such as Mary Kay Letourneau, Debra Lafave, Pamela Rogers Turner, and Pamela Smart) have been prosecuted for engaging in sexual relationships with younger males. While many states have strict statutory rape laws on the books, prosecutors have been inconsistent in enforcing them, says Mark Chaffin, a researcher with the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth.

The purpose behind most statutory rape laws is to punish grown adults who take sexual advantage of a minor.

Although there is no public talk of prosecution, and much of the case would depend on where and when the sexual activity took place, onlookers have questioned whether Spears’ boyfriend could be charged with statutory rape, even though the two were in a long-term, consensual relationship.

Parents, particularly those with teenage daughters, certainly have cause for concern.

Research shows that teenage girls tend to have their first sexual experience with male partners who are three or more years older.

In one study, researchers discovered that girls who’d had an older boyfriend by seventh grade were twice as likely to have had sex by ninth grade as girls who’d had a same-age boyfriend by seventh grade.

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