Sex Offenses Law

Sex Crimes Overview

This content contains sensitive subject matter related to legal defense for crimes of a sexual nature.

Sex crimes are a serious matter and some of the most harshly punished crimes in the United States. Sex offense crimes involve acts committed by an individual involving coerced or illegal sexual conduct with another person.

There are both federal and state statutes defining these crimes and their punishments. State and federal statutes also specify sex crime statutes of limitations, which limit the time allowed for criminal prosecution or civil suit against an offender.

This article is a broad overview of this complicated legal topic. Consider speaking with a criminal defense attorney immediately if you face criminal charges for sex crimes.

The following details some of the more commonly charged sex crimes in the United States. Consider seeking local legal guidance to learn about more complex areas of this complicated area of law.

Rape and Sexual Assault

Since 2012, the United States Attorney General has defined rape as “[t]he penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

This definition removes all references to the gender of the perpetrator or victim. Also, it specifies these acts as rape if the alleged victim is incapacitated due to drugs, alcohol, age, or some type of impairment. Additionally, a victim does not have to attempt to resist or fight off the perpetrator in order for the act to be defined as rape.

Sexual assault is a general category of sex offense that involves any sexual act done without the consent of the alleged victim. This includes sodomy, rape, fondling, and attempted rape.

Statutory Rape

Statutory rape is an act of penetrative sex with someone who has not yet reached the legal age of consent as determined by laws in the state where the act occurs. In statutory rape, the alleged victim may consent to the act, but it is still a crime if he or she is underage. If the alleged victim is a child as defined by state law, the act may be considered child molestation instead of statutory rape.

It is also illegal in the United States for a spouse to force or coerce sexual acts on their marital or domestic partner. This includes acts of rape, sexually demeaning behavior, and violence on sexual body parts of the victim.

Child Molestation and Sexual Conduct with a Minor

These laws pertain to any sexual contact or exploitation of a person under the age of 18. Child molestation criminal cases are prosecuted under state law. However, federal prosecution is possible if the crime occurs on federal lands such as Indian territories, National Parks, or military bases.

If the crime includes force, bodily injury, kidnapping, or the death of a victim, significantly harsher penalties are often applied for aggravated circumstances.

Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Child

These offenses involve sexual contact with a child, as defined by state law, in which the perpetrator intends to gratify their sexual desires or those of a third party. Lewd and lascivious acts are treated more harshly than offenses of indecent exposure but less harshly than acts of sexual battery or rape.

Indecent Exposure and Public Sexual Indecency

These are state laws prohibiting a person from exposing their genitals in public with the intent of frightening or offending others, gratifying the sexual desires of the perpetrator, or enticing a sexual response from a person who witnesses the act.

The exposure of a female breast in public is not considered exposure of genitals, making it legal to breastfeed an infant in public. Furthermore, exposure of underwear alone is also insufficient for charges of indecent exposure.


Incest is sexual conduct between persons who are closely related by blood. This includes siblings, parents and their children, grandparents and grandchildren, and uncles and aunts having sex with nieces or nephews. Some states also define incest as sexual conduct between first cousins. Incest is a criminal act, regardless of consent between the people involved.

Prostitution and Solicitation

Prostitution involves engaging in a sexual act for money or other compensation, such as drugs. Crimes of prostitution are outlawed in all states except Nevada, where a limited number of registered brothels are allowed to conduct prostitution legally. Solicitation is the crime of seeking a customer for a paid sexual act performed by the soliciting person or someone else. Prostitution and solicitation are often both treated under the same state statutes.

Child Pornography

While many sex crimes are defined and prosecuted under state laws, crimes involving child pornography are covered by federal statutes. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression, does not protect the right to make, view or distribute any form of child pornography.

The definition of child pornography is broad and includes any photographic, video or digital depiction of a person under the age of 18 if it is created for the intent of sexual gratification of the viewer, even if the child is not actively engaged in a sexual act. These laws also apply to computer-generated images that do not actually depict real persons.

Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

Failure to register as a sex offender is another sex crime covered by federal law. All persons convicted of sex crimes must register themselves under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). If these offenders fail to register, they can be prosecuted for a violation of a sex offender registration statute.

People who are registered sex offenders can be identified by the public, without charge, through the National Sex Offender Public Registry administered by the United States Department of Justice.

Speak to an Experienced Sex Crime Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified sex crime lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local sex crime attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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