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Jailbait Taboo

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This trope is when an adult character struggles with romantic and/or sexual feelings for a teenager below the legal age of consent. Social norms portray relationships between adults and teens as inherently abusive and wrong, yet many adult characters find teens attractive (or just one in particular), making them Forbidden Fruit. Thus, the opportunity of sex or a relationship with an underage partner presents a moral conundrum and character-defining moment.

In Real Life, Age of Consent laws define when sex or relationships between adults and older teenagers are legal, and the adult can be prosecuted for it when they aren't. Hollywood Law often comes into play with this trope, because most of the world makes some allowance for such relationships even if they're socially frowned uponnote . Because California is one of the few exceptions where the younger partner MUST be 18 with no close-in-age exceptions, many Hollywood works incorrectly assume this is the case everywhere.

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Legal aspects aside, the taboo can have a number of impacts on the story and characterization. A character may be attracted to a teenager, but avoid pursuing the relationship due to the taboo (often a way to show that they're a decent person or Chivalrous Pervert). They might pursue the relationship despite the taboo, and receive legal or social consequences for it. Other times, they may simply wait until their crush is of legal age. Some scenarios make the older partner sympathetic or even a victim by having teen initiate the relationship, often by lying about their age. Other scenarios where the older partner willingly pursues teenage partners tend to portray older one as an immature, shallow pervert exploiting their young lover's naivete.

This trope often involves an adult man and an underage girl, but not always. Gender-flipped examples are more likely to be Played for Laughs or for Fanservice, while same-gender examples often fall into Lover and Beloved and tend to be the most scandalized due what so many already believe about gay people.

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Often overlaps with Age-Gap Romance and Unequal Pairing. May overlap with Joshikousei and Catholic School Girls Rule, other tropes about fetishizing high school girls. Compare Wife Husbandry and Mal Mariée, a Medieval analogue to this trope with some different connotations. See also Old Man Marrying a Child— the age difference with this trope is less extreme, often 10-15 years, but the squick factor is similar.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Supergirl (2011): When an older super-villain hits on Supergirl, she hits him, shouting "I'm sixteen, you creep!"

    Fan Works 
  • In Flag Flying High, Harry is still considered a minor in the cultivation world. Played for Drama at first since it pushed Mo Xuanyu to kill himself in atonement for lusting after the teen, and Lan Sizhui later hesitates to confess his emerging crush on the other youth because of the age gap.
  • In Pixelator Picks, Theo keeps his relationship with Mirelle, a teenager, a secret from Ladybug for fear she will send him to jail for it.
  • The Sun Also Surprises: Celestia nearly bails when she learns Gosling is a teenager. Cadance points out that he's old enough to be in the Guard, he's very mature and sensible for his age, and when the age difference can already be measured in millennia, a half-decade doesn't matter very much.
  • Thank You: While she's on patrol, some guy hits on Momo. He quickly backs down when she tells him her age.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Above the Shadows: Holly blackmails Shayne's next rival Tommy with the knowledge that his fling is 16.
  • Age of Consent: The film is about a romance between the 60-something Bradley and his teenage model Cora. At one point, Ma Ryan screeches that Cora is underage and that she will sic the police on Bradley.
  • The Birds, the Bees and the Italians The men in the group are all pretty shocked when they find out that Alda, who they've all been sleeping with, is only 15. They all have to go to court.
  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: As part of his plan to redeem Kazakhstan, Borat decides to give his 15-year-old daughter Tutar to Mike Pence, and failing that, Rudy Giuliani. Borat isn't familiar with the underage taboo, and apparently, a woman being unmarried at 15 is rare in Kazakhstan. Posing as a journalist, Tutar arranges an interview with Giuliani to seduce him. After they've moved to a bedroom, Borat, having had a change of heart, intervenes exclaiming, "She 15. She too old for you."
  • Cast a Deadly Spell: Amos Hackshaw's daughter Olivia is a Hormone-Addled Teenager who is constantly attempting to seduce older men despite being underage, much to Hackshaw's rage. Not because he cares for his daughter's safety, but because he only conceived her to use as a Virgin Sacrifice in a ritual to summon the Great Old Ones. Unfortunately for Hackshaw, she manages to seduce a local police officer without him knowing, and thus when he attempts the ritual it backfires and the Eldritch Abomination he would have summoned eats him instead.
  • In For Your Eyes Only, Bibi Dahl shows up in Bond's hotel room naked and Ready for Lovemaking, but Bond declines the offer due to her being underaged.
  • In the Lifetime movie Stalked At 17 contains an extreme example of these relationships being abusive. Chad, a twenty-two-year-old college student, becomes obsessed with his sixteen/seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Angela, when she reveals that she's pregnant. When Angela's parents find out about her pregnancy and the father of their grandchild, they try to create some distance. This doesn't set well for Chad as he starts to stalk them and tries getting in contact with them. His Yandere levels go through the roof when he tries attacking Angela's father for getting a restraining order against him. He even turns to his mother, who was recently released from prison, for help on kidnapping Angela and their newborn son so that they can be a family together.
  • 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.
  • In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pussycat offers to give Cliff fellatio, leading him to ask her age and if she has any identification. She claims that she's 18 but doesn't have ID with her, leading Cliff to presume that she's underage and stating that he's not willing to risk jail for "road head".
  • In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, McMurphy got into this whole jail to mental hospital to lobotomy and ultimately to death situation because he committed statutory rape on a fifteen-year-old girl.
  • Princess: When their landlord threatened to kick them out, the still below age of consent Christina seduced him while her boyfriend filmed them with August's camera to blackmail him.
  • Downplayed in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Everyone makes a big deal out of 24-year-old Scott "dating a highschooler", 17-year-old Knives, though she's above the age of consent, and shames him for it, but he doesn't face any serious consequences. Scott is portrayed as a whiny, immature jerk, so it fits his characterization. In the video game Kim (same age as Scott) also ends up kissing her.
  • Raging Bull: Vickie is just 15 when Jake (who's 20 at the time) starts seeing her. Much later on, Jake's downfall in Miami happens when he canoodles a bit with a young lady at his club who says she's 21, and introduces her to some male customers. Turns out she was actually 14 and using a fake ID, so the vice squad busts him and he gets incarcerated.
  • Série noire: The woman Franck sells a bathrobe to at the beginning offers to pay him with an "intimate moment" in the company of her 16 year old niece Mona... Franck follows Mona in her room, then she completely undresses right in front of him. Probably feeling a jailbait due to her age (and being married at this point), Franck quickly has her dress up again and lectures her.
  • In Trainspotting, the adult Mark goes to bed with a cute girl, only to find out in the morning that she's 16 and lives with her parents. He tries to break it off, but she threatens to report him to the police if he doesn't keep seeing her.
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction: When Cade objects to Shane and Tessa's relationship (the latter is 17), Shane produces a card on his person and (incorrectly) cites the Romeo and Juliet laws of Texas that allow him and Tessa to legally date. Hollywood Provincialism comes into play because in Texas, the age of consent is 17, so the point is moot.

    Literature 
  • In a story from Haunted, "old" Mr Whittier is actually a progeria-suffering thirteen-year-old who makes money by seducing wealthy women and then blackmailing them with the threat of turning them in for statutory rape.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • American Odyssey: A 21-year old guy worries he's guilty of statutory rape for sleeping with a 17-year old girl. However, in New York the age of consent is 17, so he needn't be, though apparently he's unaware.
  • Euphoria: Maddy has sex with Tyler in order to get back at her boyfriend, which ends up with disastrous consequences for him as she's only seventeen. This might be covered by a Romeo and Juliet law,note  but he might be unaware of that, and it could have social consequences anyway.
  • Orphan Black: It's implied that Siobhan was still underage when she hooked up with her late husband, which pissed off Siobhan's mother so much that she killed him.
  • In Stranger, Dong-jae claims that Moo-sung's MO was to deliberately match up his VIP clients with underage High Class Call Girls, so he'd better be able to blackmail them later. Ga-young, it seems, was one of his underage hookers.
  • The Walking Dead: In Season 3, Carol catches friendly-yet-shady prisoner Axel hitting on seventeen-year old Beth. Without any hesitation, she gets him away from her and tells him, in no uncertain terms, to keep his pervy mitts off Beth.

    Music 
  • Gary Puckett & The Union Gap: In "Young Girl", he discovers the girl he just banged is jailbait and is really unhappy she didn't tell him first. He then tells her that she had best leave him alone and go home to her momma before he changes his mind and bangs her again.
  • "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.
  • "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.
  • Domino's "Do You Qualify" urges his older male listeners not to think with their dicks, and make sure their lover is of age; ending the song with a cautionary tale about one man who didn't.
    ...You know what comes next, took her to the snooty
    Treated her like a salad, tossed up the booty
    Bill played it wrong, and he got lazy
    No protection, guess what, oopsy daisy!
    Now baby's pregnant,
    Cuz Bill neglected
    To be protected,
    Now he's arrested.

    Video Games 
  • In BitLife, it's possible to find someone to date under the age of consent (in your country) when you're over the age. Dating them will definitely lead you to jail.

    Web Comics 
  • In Gangster Mama, Jasmine, a 16-year-old girl, is pregnant with Bowswer's child. She uses the threat of sending him to jail for statuatory rape to blackmail him into marrying her and paying child support.
  • In a very early Least I Could Do strip, Rayne once unknowingly slept with a high school girl he picked up at a bar. When the mother found out she tried to press charges but the judge ended up dismissing the case on the grounds that her daughter had used a fake ID to enter a bar so Rayne could not reasonably be expected to know she was underage.

    Web Original 
  • A Running Gag in The Hard Times is that Pop Punk frontmen all exclusively date underage girls. This is played for Black Comedy, and the frontmen in question are portrayed as immature creeps who are still stuck in high school. One article, "All Warped Tour Stages Moved 100 Feet from Audience to Comply with Sex Offender Laws", jokes that so many Pop Punk frontmen have been convicted of sex offenses that they are not allowed to get too close to the audience at Warped Tour, a music festival known both for its young audience and density of Pop Punk acts.
  • In one issue of Mats Jonsson, the protagonist is having a relationship with a girl who pretends to be 21. When it's revealed that she's studying at high school rather than the university, she changes it to nineteen. When she later confesses that she's actually sixteen and begs forgiveness for her dishonesty, he breaks all contact with her and spends the rest of the episode angsting over having been messing around with someone so young. The story takes place in Sweden, where the age of consent is fifteen — so his angst is purely emotional, without any ephebophilia issues.

    Western Animation 
  • Jailbait Taboo: Even Archer has his limits.
    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...
  • Bojack Horseman: When Bojack, a middle-aged man, goes to New Mexico and spends time with Charlotte and her family, her 17-year-oldnote  daughter Penny ends up falling for him. He does the right thing and rejects her advances, but after Charlotte rejects him he's too depressed to continue resisting and allows Penny to have her way with him, only for Charlotte to catch them in the act. This destroys his relationship with Charlotte and later comes back to haunt him, and is treated by the show as one of Bojack's many moral failings.

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