carnal knowledge

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Carnal knowledge is sexual intercourse between two people, typically requiring at least some slight penetration. Carnal knowledge is a necessary element of many sex crimes such as rape, child molestation, or consensual sexual relations with someone below the age of consent (i.e statutory rape). 

The term, carnal knowledge, may appear in the state statute that provides the elements of a criminal offense. For example, the Virginia Criminal Code § 18.2-63 uses the term: “If any person carnally knows, without the use of force, a child thirteen years of age or older but under fifteen years of age, such person shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.” It defines carnal knowledge to include, “the acts of sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anilingus, anal intercourse, and animate and inanimate object sexual penetration.” Similarly, Georgia’s Criminal Code establishes that one is guilty of rape when they forcibly have carnal knowledge of a woman against her will. (Ga. Code Ann. §16-6-1(a)).

Most states, such as New York and California, use the terms “sexual intercourse” in the state criminal codes describing the elements of sexual crimes such as rape.  

[Last updated in August of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]