Washington state has a sex crime on the books with a very old name: Communication With A Minor For Immoral Purposes. “CMIP” is a gross misdemeanor, with a maximum possible punishment of 364 days in jail and a $5000 fine. There is no mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction, except for ten years of sex offender registration. In 2013, the CMIP statute was amended so that persons communicating with minors “through the sending of an electronic communication” is risking a Class C felony.
Talking dirty to a minor now has much greater risks.
The statute makes that clear. What is ‘confusing’ to persons taking such risks is that the CMIP statute is meant to protect minor children, which is any person under the age of 18. I have fielded many questions from clients and potential clients about this crime in comparison to Washington State’s age of lawful consent, which is 16. All ask the same basic question: “do you mean I can have sex with a 16 year old, but I can’t talk to her!?!” To put it bluntly, an adult is risking their future and their freedom by ‘fooling around’ with a minor, no matter if there is verbalization or action consistent with consent.
Could a 18 or 19 year old really go to jail for talking to his 16 year old girlfriend?
In theory, yes. There are absolutely no exceptions in the CMIP statute to cover these types of consenting sex talk or sexual activity situations. In reality, prosecutors often tell me it is ‘doubtful’ a case like this would get filed due to the opinion that the age distinction between the participants is relatively small. Many see an 18 or 19 year old as a ‘peer’ of a 16 year old. Often this age disparity could be seen in a situation where a high school senior dates a junior. But the threat of criminal charges are real.
However, a forty year old man communicating with a teenager is certainly living dangerously and risking their future. The plain reading of the statute appears to have no exception or defense. Put another way, lawyers like to say that the CMIP statute is a “strict liability” crime. If one gets caught, CMIP has been committed. There is no defense by saying “she started it” or “she wanted it.”
But what about a relationship between persons that has indeed been consensual?. What could ‘really’ go wrong? I can caution based on one real client’s example. After the relationship soured, the teenager had the age card to threaten with. The threat of criminal charges could be to used to keep the relationship going, or to end it. Either way, the CMIP statute doesn’t provide an excuse for the other ‘adult’ participant. Also common is when an adult in his early 20s is caught by some means by the 16 year old’s parents. I am personally aware of cases where the parents threatened the older male to end the relationship, “or else.”
Unless and until the WA legislature makes a statutory affirmative defense in the CMIP statute to cover the above issues, this writer submits that the admonition “you’d better wait till she’s 18” is the only way to avoid risking a criminal charge.