If you are facing charges of sexual abuse against a minor, you need an experienced legal team to help protect you from imprisonment, fines, and a tarnished reputation. Our law firm understands that even an allegation of a sex crime can be enough to bring someone’s life crumbling down around them. The only way to protect yourself is to have a vigorous defense.

We know what it takes to fight these charges and will work for you. We are not here to judge you, but to help you fight this legal battle.

What Puts A Person Or Entity At Risk of Prosecution?

An adult that has a sexual relationship with a minor is at risk of prosecution under the criminal statute for sexual abuse of a minor. The most pertinent issues are the relative ages of the adult and the minor and what acts occurred between them. Even if the minor was a willing participant, federal law views the older person’s behavior as abusive.

For example, if a 21-year-old woman has a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy, the woman could face criminal charges under this statute. If, on the other hand, there was an 18-year-old man who had sex with a 15-year-old girl, their relationship would be permissible because the age gap is under 4 years.

Any romantic relationship with a problematic age gap could risk prosecution if there is the perception that sexual acts are taking place or the adult is attempting to have sex with the minor.  Actual behavior, as well as perceived behavior, are an issue when considering if there is a risk of being charged under this law.

What Are The Federal Statutes Related To Sexual Abuse of a Minor?

Federal sexual abuse statutes have two types of crimes against individuals who are not yet adults: one statute deals with victims between the ages of 12 and 16.[1] The other deals with victims or potential victims under the age of 12.[2] The crime of sexual abuse of a minor[3] carries the following elements:

  • Intent
  • Sexual act or attempted sexual act
  • The victim must be at least 12, but not yet 16.
  • The victim must be at least 4 years younger than the perpetrator.
  • The act takes place on federal lands, in a federal facility, or with a victim that is in the custody of the federal government.

If the victim is under the age of 12, the applicable crime is aggravated sexual abuse.[4]  While the victim is a minor in the sense that he or she is not yet an adult, the statute categorizes these individuals as “children.”  The elements of the crime are the same as sexual abuse of a minor, but with the age of the victim adjusted.

Aggravated sexual abuse also applies in two additional scenarios:

  • Someone crosses a State border intending to engage in a sexual act with a child.
  • A person sexually abuses a minor using force, threat, or intoxication without the victim’s knowledge, or if the person is unconscious.

What Are Some Related Crimes?

Sexual abuse of a minor

Sexual abuse of a minor is one of many related sex crimes. One of the related crimes is abusive sexual contact[5] in which the contact does not rise to the level of a sexual act. The elements of this crime are the same as sexual abuse of a minor with two differences:

  • The behavior is sexual contact as opposed to a sexual act.
  • A third person who knowingly causes someone to engage in sexual contact with a minor can also be prosecuted.

Sex Trafficking of Children

Another related crime is the sex trafficking of children.[6]  This crime requires the following elements:

  • An impact on or use of interstate or foreign commerce
  • Furtherance of or benefit from a commercial sex act involving someone who is not yet 18
  • Knowledge (actual or through reckless disregard) of force or threats or of the involvement of a minor

“Furtherance of the Commercial Sex Act”

Furtherance of the commercial sex act includes participation in any part of the sex trafficking chain, from recruiting minors and customers, buying sexual acts with a minor, hiding the minor or the customers, or doing anything to maintain the sex trafficking.

Other Related Crimes

There are many other related crimes, including involvement in sexually explicit visual depictions of minors;[7] receiving, distributing, or transporting child pornography;[8] and failure to register as a sex offender.[9]

What Are Some Essential And Impactful Cases?

Courts that have ruled on these laws have generally made it easier to prosecute these cases.  The standards for evidence have been interpreted with certain flexibilities, especially when taking into account the age of the victims in each case.

Generally, conversations with other people are not admissible in court because they are considered hearsay. However, there are certain exceptions to this general rule of evidence.

  • In Ohio v. Clark, a 3-year-old boy had disclosed abuse to his daycare teacher. The boy was too young to testify in court, but the Supreme Court ruled that the statement made to the teacher could be admitted because it was during an “ongoing emergency.”
  • In U.S. v. No Neck, the Eighth Circuit reviewed a case involving a conviction of a father for aggravated sexual abuse against his children. The son testified using colloquial child terms for his genitalia but did not explicitly specify penetration. However, the court ruled that this was sufficient, especially with physical evidence that confirmed the testimony.
  • Similarly, in U.S. v. IMM, the Ninth Circuit ruled that a 7-year-old witness using casual terms was sufficient even without physical evidence confirming abuse.

What Federal Agencies Detect And Investigate These Crimes?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), often in partnership with local law enforcement, is the primary federal agency responsible for detecting and investigating these crimes. There are specific segments of the FBI that are more likely to be involved in these cases, such as:

  • The Violent Crimes Against Children (VCAC) program
  • The Innocence Lost National Initiative
  • The Safe Trails Task Forces (collaborations with tribal law enforcement)

In addition, Project Safe Childhood is a Department of Justice initiative that helps investigate and prosecute, coordinating partnerships across stakeholders.

What Federal Agencies Are Involved In Prosecuting These Crimes?

The Department of Justice (DOJ), through the U.S. Attorney’s Office, prosecutes charges of sexual abuse of a minor. Prosecutions may be done in conjunction or coordination with state prosecutors. Within the DOJ, there are several sections that are most often involved in these case:

  • The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section
  • The Internet Crimes Against Children task force
  • The Violent and Organized Crime Section

The Project Safe Childhood initiative also plays a role in the prosecution of crimes.

What Are The Statutory Penalties If You Are Convicted Of Sexual Abuse Of A Minor?

Each sex crime statute specifies the penalties that apply in that case. For a crime of sexual abuse of a minor older than 12 and younger than 16, there is a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.[10]

There may be a fine in lieu of or in addition to imprisonment. For aggravated sexual abuse, there is a sentence of at least 30 years and up to life. There must also be a fine in addition to imprisonment.[11] Convictions for these crimes also come with mandatory restitution payments.[12]

What Are Some Of The Additional Consequences Of Being Convicted?

Conviction of any sex crime can completely upend your life, but sexual abuse of a minor is especially impactful. Even without a conviction, there will be ongoing reputation damage that will affect you personally and professionally. With a conviction, the likely prison sentence will disrupt your personal relationships, career, and health and well-being.

In addition, the financial impact of any fines and restitution may be devastating. You could also lose any professional licenses you hold, continuing to impact your financial health well into the future.

What Are Some Defenses To Sexual Abuse Of A Minor?

The criminal statute also identifies some defenses to charges of sexual abuse of a minor.

  • First, if the defendant can establish a reasonable belief that the other person was already 16 years of age or older, that would be a valid defense.[13] This has to be established as a preponderance of evidence so the proof and circumstances surrounding the defendant’s belief about the age.
  • Second, it would also be a valid defense if the defendant can establish that he or she was legally married to the alleged victim at the time of the sexual act.[14] As with the belief of appropriate age defense, the burden is on the defendant to show by a preponderance of evidence that there was a marital relationship in place before the sexual act.

In addition, if the defendant’s legal team can establish doubt about the facts, the charges can also be fought off. For example, the definition of a “sexual act” is specified in the statute.[15] A vigorous defense would also work to demonstrate doubt that a sexual act was committed, as well as doubt about the other elements of the crime to the greatest extent possible.

Why Do You Need A Lawyer?

Sexual abuse of a minor is a serious offense, and you need someone who has the skills to mount a serious defense. Even the allegation alone can be detrimental. A lawyer can help curb allegations and limit how much information becomes public.

In addition, an experienced attorney can evaluate plea deals to help you decide how to minimize the lasting impact on you and your family. If you have to go trial, a legal team that knows how to defend these charges successsfully is essential.

Sexual Abuse Of Minors In The News

Article #1:

A 26-year-old man from Compton, California was sentenced to 160 months in prison for sex crimes involving a 15-year-old girl. The man was sentenced based on his guilty plea of sex trafficking, but he also admitted to a number of other acts that would be considered other crimes.

The man admitted to a month of sexual abuse towards to girl, which would be sexual abuse of a minor if it had taken place on federal land. In addition, he admitted to raping her several times when she was unconscious, which would amount to aggravated sexual abuse. The sex trafficking charge came from the man’s advertising the 15-year-old as a prostitute.

The man was one of four that were charged with sex trafficking. This charge does not address the other acts of sex trafficking and sexual abuse towards other minors during the same time period. The man was also charged in state court for these crimes and sentenced to 52 months by the state, which was taken into account by the federal judge sentencing him in this case.

Article #2:

A 36-year-old man was sentenced to 60 months in prison for sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl. The assault took place on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, which brings the federal statute for sexual abuse of a minor in play rather than leaving it to be prosecuted under state law.

The minor was visiting a family member, and the perpetrator resided in the same place as the family member. While the victim slept, the man assaulted her.  The victim contacted her mother after the assault, and the mother notified local law enforcement on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Two months after being charged, the man pleaded guilty.

In addition to his prison term, he was also sentenced to three years of supervised release.

Article #3:

A naturalized citizen from Ghana was denaturalized after being convicted of sexually abusing a child. The man came to the United States from Ghana in 1989.  The man married a U.S. citizen who had a young child.

By early 2000, when her child was in the fourth grade, the man began sexually assaulting her. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to abuse beginning in April 2000.

During the man’s naturalization interview, he lied under oath when he was asked if he had committed any crimes that he had not yet been arrested for. The interview took place later in 2000 than the start date of the abuse according to his guilty plea.  In 2018, a federal court in North Carolina ordered that his naturalized citizenship be revoked.

He had to surrender his naturalization certificate and is prevented from claiming any of the rights and benefits associated with citizenship. Unlike with the underlying sex crime, this case was investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and prosecuted by the DOJ’s Office of Immigration Litigation.

Article #4:

In January 2019, a man was sentenced to life in prison after a jury trial for his sexual abuse towards children in Cambodia. The man operated an unlicensed orphanage in Phnom Penh, which he funded in part through donations from church groups in the U.S.

There were at least 10 Cambodian victims, ranging in age from seven to 18 at the time of the abuse. The victims all made disclosures of the abuse. After an unrelated warrant was issued for him in 2013 and efforts were made to revoke his passport, he was located in Cambodia.

The Cambodian National Police arrested him.  As a result of the disclosures made by the Cambodian victims, he was sentenced to a year in prison in Cambodia in 2014.

The FBI also investigated his actions and, after his release and return to the U.S., he was indicted in 2014.  He was convicted of several crimes, including aggravated sexual assault, engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place, and travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

For each count of the latter two crimes, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and for aggravated assault of a child, he was sentenced to life.

Article #5:

In 2012, a Minneapolis man pleaded guilty to abusive sexual contact of two minors. The case came to the attention of law enforcement through the work of Project Safe Childhood, and the prosecution of the case was a joint effort between the DOJ’s Criminal Division, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and Homeland Security Investigations (the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

The man, as part of his guilty plea, admitted that he abused two boys under the age of 12 sometime between 1997 and 2002. The abuse took place at the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Because a U.S. Air Force base is considered a special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., he is guilty of a federal crime for his actions.

The guilty plea comes with a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.