Logically, the term statutory rape is like common-law marriage, legally blind, or corporate person. (For the latter, cf. Wikipedia: “Legal personality (also artificial personality, juridical personality, and juristic personality) is the characteristic of a non-human entity regarded by law to have the status of a person.”) Someone using such terms is well aware that we are not dealing with rape, marriage, blindness, or persons in the usual sense; but for certain well-defined legal purposes, the broader entities referred to are analogous.
Thus, in order to maintain that President Clinton had committed perjury when he said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” (a statement strictly true, in the dictionary sense of sexual relations, legally binding at the time), his detractors used the term sexual relations (dictionary definition: a synomym of sexual intercourse) loosely to refer to any sort of hanky-panky, such as attempting to smoke a cigar in what one imagines is a highly inefficient way. And now, frustrated at the comparative mildness of the penalties against acts of lewd aggression that are not actually rape, the activists have taken to simply calling such things, well, rape. This simplifies the media’s prosecutors’ task considerably: If you are rich and French and you put your hands where they don’t belong -- bingo, you’re a ‘rapist’.
So greatly are brains befuddled, when confronting the politics of sex, that I almost despair of getting the point across. So let us remove to an analogy. Tom shoots at John, missing him. Or, Tom beats John to a pulp. Or, Tom announces on national television that he intends to kill John. Then Tom is charged with murder, because, though his intended victim is still among the living, what he did was “just as bad”. And if you imply otherwise, you are insulting the murder-victims community.
Thus, to answer in the modern spirit, the Mad Hatter’s classic unanswered question, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”: in the view of the raven community, it’s near enough as makes no difference.
Anyhow, now that the skirt-chaser has gone “scot-free” (as one feminist put it -- minus, of course, his privacy, his dignity, his previously secure shot at the French Presidency, several weeks of his life, and many thousands of dollars), under the American system, his legal troubles are far from over. Under the American system, it’s every shark for his or her self, in the blood-roiled tank. Lack of criminal liability will not help him here. For, standards of evidence are different in criminal and in civil trials. In a criminal trial, guilt must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. In a civil trial, in the Bronx (where the events did not happen but where, naturally, the lawsuitress would like the the game to be played, on home turf), you need only prove that the defendant is rich, white, male, and unpopular.
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[Update 2 Oct 2011] And now, a move to legally change the definition:
The proposed changes there sound quite reasonable, actually.
[Update 23 Aug 2012] More wrangling over "rape":