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Malory: For god's sake, Sterling, she's turning seventeen!

Archer: Oh, ew, sorry.

Lana: Even for you, Archer.

Archer: Come on, she doesn't look like she's turning seventeen.

Lana: No, she looks like she's turning eighteen.

Archer: Exactly! Plus, the Europeans use the metric system, so...
She's just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say...
—Benny Mardones, Into the Night

Sometimes they're Younger Than They Look. It may be difficult to realize this until it is too late, however. Especially if they claim to be Totally Eighteen.

In Real Life, it is a serious crime for a legal adult to have sex with a minor who is below the age of consent, usually 16-19 in North America and 14-16 in Europe, but in fiction is almost always 18, since that's the legal age in the US state of California, with the notable exceptions of Law and Order making it clear the age of consent in New York is 17, and Japan where the federal age of consent is 13,[1] although that one does cause some Values Dissonance when things get exported. The term for a person, or provocative pictures of them, who is under that age but looks either old enough or hot enough for onlookers to forget the difference is "Jail Bait." The "joke" about this was "15 will get you 20", only it isn't a joke -- according to the law, a minor can't give proper consent to sex since a naive and hormonal teenager might not make the most sound decisions and an adult could exploit that, hence the term "statutory rape".

While we are on the subject of real life....No Real Life Examples, Please

Now, there's a fine line between Jail Bait and ephebophilia, and it depends on where it takes place, where the perpetrator is from (some countries have "sex tourism" laws) and how old the victim is. Generally, sexual interest in anyone under 13 is considered paedophilia.

There's also been some recognition over the years by some state legislators that it doesn't make much sense to send someone to prison for several years because they're a few years older than their partner, just because one is of age and the other one technically isn't (or both are under age, like a 16-year-old with a 15-year-old). Most states have what are called "Romeo and Juliet" laws, where if the age difference is within three or four years, it's generally not a crime or if it's still a crime it's been reduced to a low-level misdemeanor (maximum 6 months in the county jail and possibly a fine as opposed to years in state prison and registration as a sex offender).

See also Legal Jailbait and The Jailbait Wait. Contrast Dawson Casting. Not to be confused with Jail Bake. Compare Fille Fatale which is a more...proactive version of this trope.

Examples of Jail Bait include:


Anime/Manga

  • In Mirai Nikki, the two protagonists are both 14 years old. However, the story makes it reeeeeeeeeal easy to forget that fact. Besides almost being raped at one point, the female lead is constantly seen in a bra and panties (or less), chapter 52 showcases the two of them having sex, complete with fully-exposed breasts. A case of Values Dissonance since the age of consent in Japan is 13.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion features Asuka Langley Soryu and Rei Ayanami, both of whom are 14 and who are repeatedly depicted sans clothes or in suggestive poses. As with the above example, it is a case of values dissonance.
  • Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water's titular character is yet another 14 year old, who spends the majority of her screentime in a stripperiffic circus costume and is depicted as quite nubile, despite her age. This is often used for fanservice, at one point, spending almost two full episodes nude.

Comics

Film

  • In the movie Lifeguard, the chief lifeguard warns his assistant that having sex with an underage girl — even if she's willing — is a crime. Then he goes ahead and has sex with one anyway after warning the trainee that it's a bad idea.
  • MTV had a TV movie about this named after the trope. The reason why it's notable is that the titular jailbait later became the Pink Ranger on Power Rangers SPD.
  • In Animal House, Clorette drunkenly blurts out "I'm only thirteen" during a makeout session. The line was actually a Censor Decoy put in so that the writers could get away with "I'm only seventeen" as a "compromise", but it went though without modification.
  • In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, McMurphy is serving out a sentence for statutory rape. During his interview with Dr. Spivey, he says, "She was fifteen years old going on thirty-five, Doc, and she told me she was eighteen."

Literature

  • Male example in Haunted 2005. Brandon Whittier is a thirteen-year-old boy suffering from progeria, which causes him to age at seven times the normal rate. He amasses a fortune by telling his nurses he's eighteen, begging them not to let him die a virgin, and then revealing his age and demanding money in exchange for not reporting them.
  • In the early Posleen War Series novels, Cally O'Neill's apparent age, actual age, and willingness to defend her virtue at gunpoint caused posters with her picture on it to be put up all around her home town with the message: WARNING: Jailbait. To be considered armed and dangerous.

Live Action TV

  • In the first episode of Californication, Hank has a one night stand with a young woman who turns out to be the sixteen-year-old daughter of his ex-girlfriend's fiancé (though he did not know who or how old she was at the time.) Three seasons of blackmail and plagiarism later, the truth is finally revealed and Hank is arrested and charged with statutory rape.
  • When new watcher Wesley expresses interest in Cordelia on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is Faith's response:

  "Uh, first word: jail; second word: bait."

  • In one episode of NCIS, one particularly Jerkass suspect alibied out of the Murder of the Week because he was having sex with a senator's seventeen-year-old daughter at the time. Ziva promptly (and rather smugly) arrested him for statutory rape.
  • British police drama The Bill had an interesting example. A drunken man picked up a very willing female partner in an adult nightclub and ended up bedding her. Some months later this girl's mother found out about it and reported them to the police since her daughter was under the age of consent (16 in the UK). The police established that the fourteen year old had deliberately used clothes and make up to make herself look older than she really was, and persuaded the male to confess, reasoning that he had been careless but that it wasn't really in the public interest to prosecute him so he would be given a slap on the wrist and let go. Then it transpired that the girl's birthday was incorrect due to adoption or some other reason, so she was actually thirteen. Except that a few months ago when the incident took place she was twelve, thus meritting a statutory rape charge. That the unwitting guy had just confessed to. Oops.

Music

  • The song Jailbait by Motorhead is about underage groupies who show up at the band's shows.
  • Christine Sixteen by Kiss is about an older man who becomes infatuated with a sixteen year old girl. Because of the controversial subject matter many radio stations refused to play the song when it was released in 1977.
  • Winger's most popular song, Seventeen, is about a man who meets a woman he is intensely attracted to, and his surprise when she tells him "I'm only seventeen."
  • Joan Jett, anyone? In her signature song, I Love Rock and Roll, she declares "I knew he musta been about seventeen." Joan was 21 when she first covered the song on a recording.


Webcomics

  • In one early story arc of Least I Could Do, Rayne met a girl in a bar, and slept with her, not unreasonably assuming that she was over 18. However, she was actually 16 and still in high school. Rayne was arrested but eventually acquitted as there was no way he could have known she was under age, since 16 year old high school students aren't supposed to hang around in bars. Rayne them asked if this meant he could legally sleep with sixteen year olds if he met them in bars, causing John and his lawyer to drag him out of the courtroom.

Web Original

 Rikku: Well, just give me five or six more years. (Slaps her ass)

Spoony: Woah! You are a prison sentence waiting to happen kid!

    • Although, interestingly enough, Rikku herself mentions that (mainly due to the influence of Sin shortening everyone's life spans) many girls her age in Spira are getting married... and presumably everything that comes with that.

Notes

  1. although almost all localities have local laws making it 16 or 18
  2. Note that the age of consent in the game's country of origin is actually 13 making this a case of Values Dissonance as well.
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