Federal laws governing sex offenses are numerous and provide for serious penalties upon conviction for any of these offenses.
Sections 2241 through 2244 of Title 18 of the United States Code cover aggravated sexual abuse, rape, sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a minor, and abusive sexual contact. The penalties for convictions under these statutes range from any term of years to life imprisonment and the death penalty if the offense results in the victim’s death.
Sex crimes involving children are prosecuted vigorously at the federal level, and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines will result in a sentence as harsh as the statute violated permits. Below is a non-inclusive list of offenses involving children:
18 U.S.C. Section 2251 – Sexual Exploitation of Children (Production of child pornography);
18 U.S.C. Section 2251A – Selling and Buying Children
18 U.S.C. Section 2251 – Certain activities related to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors (Possession, distribution, and receipt of child pornography);
18 U.S.C. Section 2252A – Certain activities relating to material constituting or containing child pornography;
18 U.S.C. Section 2260 – Production of sexually explicit depictions of a minor for importation into the United States.
The penalties for violating any of the above statutes are severe: first-time conviction for producing child pornography under Section 2251 can result in a fine and/or statutory minimum of 15 to 30 years in prison, and a first-time conviction for transporting child pornography in interstate or foreign commerce under Section 2252 can result in a fine and/or statutory minimum of 5 to 20 years in prison. If an offender has prior convictions, or if the child pornography occurred in aggravated situations defined as (1) the images are violent, sadistic, or masochistic in nature, (2) the minor was sexually abused, or (3) the offender has prior convictions for child exploitation, then a sentence up to life imprisonment can be imposed.
Sexual slavery or human trafficking is covered in Chapter 77 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. For example, Section 1591 deals with the sex trafficking of children by force, fraud, or coercion. The least severe subsection of this statute can result in a sentence not to exceed 20 years, while the other two subsections can result in a minimum sentence of 10 or 15 years up to life imprisonment.
Prostitution, known as the oldest profession on earth, can also be a serious felony at the federal level. For example, 18 U.S.C. Section 2421 provides a sentence of not more than 10 years for anyone who knowingly transports any individual to travel in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to engage that person in prostitution; 18 U.S.C. Section 2422(a) provides a sentence of not more than 20 years for anyone who persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual to travel in interstate or foreign commerce to engage in prostitution; and 18 U.S.C. Section 2422(b) provides a minimum sentence of not less than 10 years up to life imprisonment for anyone who knowingly uses the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce a minor into prosecution.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission, whose guidelines are utilized by federal judges in sentence determinations, treats both the production and non-production of child pornography offenses as causing substantial and indelible harm to children. This reflects the general concern prevalent today that online sex offenders are using the Internet and social media outlets to seek out and sexually exploit children. This widespread concern has produced aggressive Congressional legislation to deal with the problem. The two most aggressive and primary pieces of legislation in this area are the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003 (The PROTECT Act) and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (the Adam Walsh Act).
The PROTECT Act increased the mandatory minimums for child pornography and sexual abuse offenses. At the same time, the Adam Walsh Act established a national registry for sex offenders, authorized indefinite civil commitment at the federal level for certified dangerous sex offenders, and permitted random, unannounced searches of sex offenders on probation or under supervised release. These two acts resulted in regional task forces and specialized investigative units within federal law enforcement targeting and apprehending offenders utilizing the Internet or social media to sexually exploit children.
Acts such as these have resulted in not only more child sex prosecutions but longer prison terms following conviction, including a 1400 percent increase in the number of sex offenders on supervised release, according to one study. A 2010 U.S. Sentencing Commission report found that the average term of supervised release for an offender convicted for possession of child pornography was 220 months, while the average term was 323 months for the production of child pornography.
In 2017, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that in the Fiscal Year 2016, the average sentence for an offender charged with a crime with a mandatory minimum was 110 months of imprisonment compared to the average 28-month sentence imposed on offenders convicted of an offense not carrying a mandatory minimum. Most federal sex offenses, especially those involving children, carry mandatory minimums.
Find yourself being investigated and ultimately charged with a federal sex offense, particularly involving a child. You should not speak to the police, and you should secure the services of an experienced attorney who had represented these kinds of federal cases.