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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...
Archer
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Sometimes romantic prospects are Younger Than They Look. It may be difficult to realize this until it is too late, however. Especially if they claim to be Totally 18.

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 16-18 in North America and 14-18 in Europe, but in Western works is almost always assumed to be 18 thanks to SoCalization and Artistic License – Law. The national age of consent in Japan is infamously 13, but in practice there are local or prefectural laws in most places raising it to 16 or higher. (Specifically, the US has close-in-age exceptions as mentioned below, whereas Japan has separate laws to prevent abuse of power by adults, with the same result.)

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." A common remark about this is that "15 will get you 20", as according to the law, a minor can't give proper consent to sex since a teenager might not make the most sound decisions and an adult could exploit that, hence the term "statutory rape."

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Most jurisdictions do have exceptions in special cases. Cases in which both parties are below the Age of Consent are usually relatively kosher, as well as cases in which the age difference is small (in order to avoid it suddenly becoming illegal upon the older party's birthday, then legal again in a few months when the younger party catches up). Some jurisdictions also have one age of consent on one's own recognizance but a lower one with parental consent. Except in police procedurals where they become plot points, these details are often ignored in fiction.

In modern fiction, this is often used to display that Even Evil Has Standards, seeming as most — but not all — villains in fiction condemn such actions. Villains who do are often regarded as pretty vile.

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

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Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Pre-Crisis Supergirl was around fifteen when she crash-landed on Earth. She eventually grew up, but a quite infamous issue — which was promptly swept under the rug — has her adult cousin regretting that marrying his teen cousin isn't legal.
  • Laurie Juspeczyk (or Silk Spectre II) from Watchmen is 16 when she started a fling with Dr. Manhattan. His than girlfriend Janey Slater calls her jail bait after the meeting when Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre II meet.

    Fan Works 
  • Played for Laughs in the Pokémon fic Kanto Calling. Brock sees 16-year old Serena and thinks to himself that she's pretty enough to hit on, but too young for him to hit on. He momentarily takes into consideration hitting on Serena just so he can get arrested and up in jail with Officer Jenny, but Ash convinces him not to.

    Film 
  • In 13 Going on 30 when Jenna (a 13-year-old in the body of a 30-year-old) gets told by her friend that a guy is checking her out. Jenna ignores the adult man winking at her and flirts with a preteen guy instead. Her friend drags her away instantly.
    Lucy: What do you want to go to jail!? I meant that guy!
    Jenna: The man? Oh gross.
  • Cast a Deadly Spell: Lovecraft chides Grimbaldi over his affair with Olivia (she lost her virginity to him), who's only 16, explicitly calling her jailbait. She brushes the matter off-he's more worried that his wife will find out.
  • The main character in The Crush is 14 and obsessed with the 28-year-old renting her parents' guest house. He spurns her advances, citing her age as part of the problem. She then frames him for raping her; the cops point out that, given that she's just a kid, of course they don't believe she set him up.
  • 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.
  • Loving Annabelle: Annabelle is seventeen, yet Ms. Bradley (after resisting for most of the film) has sex with her. At the end, when it's learned they slept together, she's arrested.
  • Mallrats ends with the antagonist being arrested for having sex with a 15 year old (who seduced him to have a 25 year-old-sample for her book on male sexuality).
  • 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."
  • In The Social Network, Sean gets into legal trouble for doing drugs with (and almost certainly sleeping with) underaged interns. He had a reputation for this before he joined the Facebook guys as indicated by Eduardo's comments, but it's left somewhat ambiguous if Mark possibly took advantage of this to get rid of Sean.
  • In Trainspotting, Mark Renton has sex with a girl he meets at a bar, discovering the next morning that she is fifteen when she appears in her school uniform and her "flatmates" are actually her parents. Later, she threatens to tell the police if he does not see her again.

    Literature 
  • The age of consent in A Brother's Price is sixteen. Jerin Whistler spends most of the novel at fifteen, just two months shy of his birthday. When Ren seduces him, she thinks of his age with embarrassment.
  • In Gottes Bodenpersonal - eine unwahrscheinliche Liebesgeschichte, a hooker tries to get rid of a preacher who keeps her customers away by bribing an underage male prostitute to seduce him. It doesn't work. Instead, the preacher calls social services and gets the boy into proper care. Confronted about it, he lampshades this trope by stating that the boy was clearly underage, and there was nothing else anyone with a conscience would do.
  • 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 Black Tide Rising, Faith's being 13 years old, and the age of consent in Arkansas (which is actually mis-stated as 14, when it is actually 16), are a frequent topic of conversation among the men she commands and fights besides.
  • In Shadow of the Conqueror, Daylen ran into this problem retroactively. Fourteen was the legal age of marriage and consent during the days of the Dawn Empire, but modern Hamahra has stricter standards. As a result, most people view his past sexual practices as pedophilia, and his bad memories over all this contribute to making him a Celibate Hero. When a sixteen-year-old attempts to seduce him in the present, he turns her down, citing her age.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 8 Simple Rules: Bridget Hennessey frequently flirts with older guys even if she is only sixteen or seventeen, though the only actual relationships she's had are with fellow classmates. Her sister also drops this line during a conversation:
    Bridget: Just use the line I use whenever I need to break up with a guy.
    Kerrie: I'm only seventeen, you'll go to jail?
  • The Affair: Noah's 16-year old daughter Whitney had sex with Cole's 30-year old brother Scott during the summer and became pregnant as a result. Her parents threaten to press charges for statutory rape and Noah attacks Scott when he runs into him. This makes him the primary suspect when Scott's murder is being investigated.
  • British police drama The Bill has an interesting example. A drunken man picks up a very willing female partner in an adult nightclub and ends up bedding her. Some months later this girl's mother finds out about it and reports them to the police since her daughter was under the age of consent (16 in the UK). The police establish that the fourteen-year-old had deliberately used clothes and make-up to make herself look older than she really was, and persuade 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 transpires that the girl's birthday was incorrect due to adoption or some other reason, so she was actually twelve at the time, thus meriting a statutory rape charge. That the unwitting guy had just confessed to. Oops.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • When new watcher Wesley expresses interest in Cordelia, Faith's response is to inform him of the the potential for going to jail:
    • In "Once More With Feeling", Buffy's little sister Dawn is kidnapped by a demon who wants to make her his queen.
      Dawn: ♫ What I mean / I'm fifteen / So this "queen" thing's illegal!
    • Even Buffy (16 at the time) calls Angel on this in "What's My Line?"
      Buffy: I wish we could be regular kids.
      Angel: Yeah. I'll never be a kid.
      Buffy: Okay, then a regular kid and her cradle-robbing, creature-of-the-night boyfriend.
  • 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. He also wrote a book about the whole thing ("Punching and Fucking") that is later made into a movie.
  • In the Friends episode "The One With The Ick Factor ", Monica sleeps with her boyfriend, who told her that he was a senior, young for her but fine. Afterwards, she finds out he means in high school. He revels in the fact that he just had sex, while she is worried about being a felon in half the countrynote .
  • Married... with Children:
    • One show had Bud's - admittedly hot - teacher coming onto him; proving this is a line he won't cross, Al actually delayed his plans to crash a kid's party in order to try to talk him out of it, and later called the police on her. (Unfortunately, it led to the wrong teacher being arrested.)
    • There was an unsuccessful Spin-Off called Top of the Heap (it only lasted seven episodes, but that was still longer than the other two attempts at spin-offs for the show.) In the first episode, an attractive teenaged girl tries to seduce the male protagonist; he suggests she come back "when you're not a felony."
  • In one episode of NCIS, one particularly Jerkass suspect alibies 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. (Which is SoCalization: The age of consent in Virginia is 18, but it's 16 in Washington D.C. and Maryland, and it's not stated where the incident took place.)
  • In the British sitcom Outnumbered, there is the Brockmans' teenage son Jake, who is 15 and dating a lap-dancer who believes he's 17. He eventually tells her this, at which point she reveals herself to be 16 and lap-dancing illegally.
  • On Queen of the South one of Camila's lawyers proves to be Too Dumb to Live and has sex with an underage babysitter. He was under DEA surveillance at the time and is told that he either informs on Camila's drug dealing empire or go to jail for statutory rape.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", Lister is interrupted while playing an immersive virtual reality game, with the claim that he only uses it to have sex. Lister's reply that he also plays tennis on it, it's pointed out that he only plays it because he's having it off with the jail bait ball-girl.
    Lister: That is a total lie! She's not jail bait - she's 17.
  • Supernatural: Subverted in "It's The Great Pumpkin Sam Winchester" when one of the deaths occurs at a teenage Halloween party. When Dean volunteers to interview an attractive female witness, Sam warns his brother "two words: jail bait", which Dean takes offense to. It's later revealed that not only did she cause the deaths, but she's actually a centuries-old witch.
  • In Two and a Half Men, Berta brings her teenage granddaughter to work one day, and reminds Charlie that she's underage. In one of Charlie's rare displays of having boundaries, he spends the episode rebuffing her attempts to flirt with him. Although he may be more afraid of Berta than the law in this case.

    Magazines 
  • Invoked in MAD's "Pantheon of Olympic Gods" with Pubertina: Goddess of Jail bait Teenage Gymnasts.

    Music 
  • "Does Your Mother Know (That You're Out)" by ABBA is about a guy in a dance club who realizes that the girl flirting with him is (probably) underage. He's still willing to flirt and talk with her, though, but he's careful not to let things get too far.
  • Jimmy Buffett gets right down to brass tacks: "Hittin' on the honeys right out of high school, Yeah, fifteen may get you twenty, but that's all right, 'Cause they're rockin' and a rollin' on a Livingston Saturday Night".
  • Jim Croce's "Five Short Minutes" is about a man agreeing to a girl's advances and ending up in prison for it, implying that it's because the girl is underage.
    Well, then a judge and a jury sat me in a room
    They said that robbin' the cradle is worse than robbin' the tomb.
    Then I said "Oh, ooee!" Sure was a tragic tale.
    (Wasn't worth it, wasn't worth it)
    Because five short minutes of lovin'
    Done brought me twenty long years in jail.
  • The song Jail bait by Motörhead is about underage groupies who show up at the band's shows.
  • "Fucking Young" by Tyler, the Creator is a song about a non-sexual relationship with an underage girl. He is tempted to have sex with her but he's scared that he'll end up in prison for it.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • GLOW had such a character named Jail Bait. In her opening rap she even drops the "fifteen will get you twenty" line.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the controversial card game Pimp: The Backhanding, the flavor text for one of the 'whores', Ursula, reads, "Are you sure you're 18?" This particular card earns a penalty if the "Undercover Cop" card is played by an opponent.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 

    Western Animation 
  • Even Sterling Archer, for all the depraved sexual acts he's performed (willingly and otherwise), draws a line at underage women. Even when being informed that the girl in question is legal in the country he's in, he refuses to give in to her advances, showing it's more of a personal rule than actual being afraid of prosecution. It might even be the first time we see Archer have an actual set of principles.
  • Family Guy:
    • One episode of has Brian infer from a comment by a recent sexual partner that she's sixteen, to which she responds that she will be in a few months (which prompts him to state that she'll get a Barnes and Noble gift card as a present from him to keep quiet about it).
    • The 2008 episode "McStroke" involved Stewie setting up school slut Connie D'Amico by masquerading as a high school student and tricking her into going out with him and having sex. When Connie makes fun of Stewie's endowment, Stewie makes sure the cops know how old he really is.
      Stewie: LOOK! SHE'S MAKING OUT WITH A BABY! A NUDE BABY!
    • Meg, of all people. Quagmire sometimes greets her, "Hey, Meg! 18 yet?"
  • What caused the downfall of Zazz Blammymatazz in Metalocalypse was Dr. Rockso getting busted having sex with Dory McLean. She's only fourteen. The end of the episode has Rockso lusting over Dory's teenage daughter.


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