NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Preventing Rape to Prevent Teen Pregnancies

April 7, 2000

In its 1996 welfare reform law, Congress told states to "aggressively enforce statutory-rape laws" as a way to prevent teen pregnancies and sexual abuse. The few states who have enforced the policy have encountered success.

  • While teenage birth rates fell in 49 states between 1994 and 1997, the decline was most dramatic in three states which stepped up enforcement of statutory rape and adopted tougher laws to combat it -- California, Connecticut and Delaware.
  • California, which registered the biggest drop in the nation with a 19 percent decline, attacked the problem through a media campaign, mentoring and responsible parenting programs -- and the procedural change of allowing one prosecutor to follow each case through to completion.
  • Connecticut, which combined a media campaign with the creation of a statutory-rape prosecution unit, saw a 10 percent decline in births to girls 15 to 19.
  • After enacting tougher penalties and checking birth records of teenage mother to determine the age of the father, Delaware saw its rates drop 6 percent.

Some social workers are displeased by new prosecutorial tactics and higher penalties aimed at the fathers. One activist characterized such policies as "politically incorrect," because they "traumatize" the families of guilty males, target black men and "prosecute almost from a cultural standpoint."

Source: Cheryl Wetzstein, "Reduced Teen Pregnancy Linked to Rape Enforcement," Washington Times, April 7, 2000.


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