Criminal sexual abuse is any sexual act that is committed with the intent to do any of the following to another person:

  • Abuse;
  • Harass;
  • Humiliate; and/or
  • Degrade.

The laws governing criminal sexual abuse vary by state, and are heavily dependent on the definitions contained within the statutes of that state. Additionally, state laws will often differentiate based on the age of the victim.

An example of this would be how if a child is sexually abused, the crime is generally classified as child molestation. However, when an adult has been sexually abused, the law will generally refer to the crime as either aggravated sexual abuse or rape.

There are three common types of sexual abuse that occur:

  • Child sexual abuse;
  • Rape; and
  • Aggravated sexual abuse.

The majority of states classify child sexual abuse by the age of the victim. A person may be guilty of child sexual abuse, or child molestation, when they engage in a sexual activity with a minor with the intent to:

  • Arouse;
  • Appeal; and/or
  • Gratify their sexual desires.

A person may be guilty of rape if they engage in an act of intercourse against the will of the victim, through means involving:

  • Force;
  • Violence;
  • Duress;
  • Intimidation; and/or
  • Fear of serious bodily harm.

A person may also commit the crime of statutory rape when they engage in sexual intercourse with an person who is under the age of 18, regardless of whether the victim gave consent. The statutory age requirement varies by state, generally between 16 and 18 years of age. Additionally, some states have laws associated with the age of the perpetrator.

A person may be found guilty of aggravated sexual abuse if the act involved any of the following special circumstances:

  • A weapon was used during the crime;
  • The victim is over 60 years of age;
  • The victim is physically or mentally incompetent and lack the ability to consent;
  • The offender behaves in such a way that is meant to threaten or endanger the victim, or any other individual if they do not comply; and
  • Statutory rape of a family member.

What Are The Legal Penalties For Criminal Sexual Abuse?

As was previously discussed, laws governing sexual abuse crimes vary by state. As such, criminal penalties for these crimes may also vary by state. A person who is convicted of child sexual abuse or molestation specifically may face the following consequences:

  • A prison sentence;
  • Being required to register as a sex offender;
  • Losing the right to vote;
  • Losing child custody rights;
  • Paying an appropriately heavy criminal fine; and/or
  • Attending required sex offender treatment programs.

When the crime is classified as a misdemeanor, the convicted may face:

  • Up to one year in jail;
  • Criminal fines of up to $1,000 in most states;
  • Other punishments, such as community service; and/or
  • Other punishments as prescribed in that specific state.

If the crime is classified as a felony, the convicted may face:

  • Over one year in prison, and up to life in prison;
  • Heavier criminal fines;
  • Loss of privileges, including voting and gun ownership; and/or
  • Other punishments, such as those prescribed in that specific state.

To reiterate, convictions for sex-related crimes may require a person to register as a sex offender. This requires them to provide their personal information to a state or national database, which may include:

  • Their address;
  • Employment information; and
  • Identifying physical markers, such as tattoos or scars.

Sex offender databases are accessible to the public, and people can search for those registered by name. Most states have different levels and different time requirements for the registry. An example of this would be how less serious offenses may require ten years on the list, while the most serious require lifetime registration.

What Is Sexting?

Sexting, short for sexual texting, is the transmission of explicit sexual images or messages from one person to another generally by using a cell phone. Sexting is a legal concern due to the fact that such images can easily be forwarded to other parties without the original owner being aware of it, and generally without their approval. It can also lead to cyberbullying, stalking, and harassment. It is important to note that these subsequent issues are especially prevalent among minors who are engaged in sexting.

The act of sexting itself becomes illegal when minors send pictures of themselves or other people, regardless if they are minors or adults. It also becomes illegal when they send pictures of minors, such as forwarding a picture that a minor sent to them. The sending, receiving, and/or possession of these photos can subject a person to child pornography charges.

Because sexting is also linked to cases of harassment, stalking, and bullying, additional criminal charges can result from sexting. These would be criminal harassment charges and criminal stalking charges. If the sexting is associated with a person’s suicide after the victim’s images were distributed without their consent, the other people who were involved in the image distribution may be charged for their role in death. In other cases, adults have been charged with child molestation and harassment for sending pictures of themselves to minors.

Sexting charges are generally easy to prove, because most electronic transmissions are stored electronically for several weeks or months after they occur. An example of this would be how messages sent by e-mail or text are often stored by the data provider, even if the person erases them from their own personal computer or phone. This can provide authorities with a way to determine:

  • What types of images were sent;
  • Who sent them;
  • How long the person possessed the images; and
  • Whether such information was passed on or forwarded to other parties.

A criminal search warrant is generally needed before the police can search for and secure this type of information. However, this type of evidence is considerably helpful in prosecuting persons for possession of child pornography, which can happen if a person receives “sext” messages from a minor.

Are There Legal Penalties For Sexting?

Criminal penalties for sexting can be especially severe. If a minor is involved, the recipient of the text can receive a felony charge and can be sentenced to at least one year in prison. They may also face other consequences, such as criminal fines and mandatory registration in a sex offender registry, as was previously mentioned. These penalties are similar or identical to those associated with child pornography charges.

In cases in which the person gave their consent to use the pictures, the charges may sometimes be reduced to misdemeanor charges. However, this largely depends on the facts of the case, as well as state laws. Generally speaking, sexting crimes result in felony charges in the majority of states.

Legislators in some states, such as Vermont and Connecticut, are lobbying to have the crime of sexting reduced to a Class A misdemeanor if the act only involves an exchange of pictures between two consenting minors. Penalties for misdemeanors include reduced criminal fines and up to one year in jail. However, sexting would likely remain a felony crime if there is no consent of the parties involved.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Sexting Charges?

Sexting charges generally require the assistance of a criminal lawyer. Your attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.