While state courts prosecute the majority of sexual abuse crimes, a number of federal laws apply to certain types of sexual abuse crimes. These include sexual abuse crimes that involve the defendant or the victim crossing state lines, that are committed in federal facilities such as prisons, or that happen on ships or planes traveling on or over federally-governed waters. They also involve cases where minors are sexually exploited and where the criminal activity crosses state lines.
Aggravated Sexual Abuse
The federal crime of aggravated sexual abuse applies to crimes committed in federal prisons and other institutions (as well as within “the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States”) where the defendant is accused of using force or threats of violence against a victim to engage in a sexual act. It also applies where the defendant knocks the victim out or gives them a substance that impairs their ability to control their own conduct, and commits a sexual act with the victim.
Aggravated sexual abuse also applies where the defendant crosses state lines with the intention of committing a sexual act with someone under 12 years of age, or where the defendant commits a sexual act with a victim between 12 and 16 years old in a federal institution or when within the maritime jurisdiction of the U.S.
Penalties for a conviction under the federal aggravated sexual abuse law are severe – up to life in prison.
The federal crime of sexual abuse is similar to the crime of aggravated sexual abuse in that it applies to crimes committed in a federal institution such as a prison or within “the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
(The phrase “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States” covers many locations. These include U.S. waters that are not within the jurisdiction of any state; any ship in those waters or aircraft flying over them; any U.S. fort, dockyard, or other “needful building”; any place outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. or any other country where a crime is committed against a U.S. citizen; and foreign vessels on which a crime is committed against a U.S. citizen.)
This federal crime of sexual abuse applies where the defendant coerces the victim to engage in a sexual act with threats or by placing the person in fear, but does not use violence or threats of violence (which are covered by the aggravated sexual assault crime described above). It also applies where the defendant engages in a sexual act with a victim who is unable to consent or who does not consent.
Penalties for a conviction of federal sexual abuse are also severe – here, too, up to life in prison.
Sexual Abuse of a Minor, a Ward, or an Individual in Federal Custody
A defendant can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for engaging or attempting to engage in a sexual act with a victim between the ages of 12 and 16, or with anyone who is a “ward” of the federal government, if the crime takes place in a federal prison or institution, or within the U.S. special maritime jurisdiction.
In addition, a federal law enforcement officer who has sex with an arrestee or federal prisoner can also be sentenced under this section to up to 15 years in prison.
Abusive Sexual Contact
This offense applies in situations where the defendant has sexual contact with the victim, but does not commit a sexual act (for example, where the defendant intentionally touches the victim in areas that, but for the victim being clothed, would constitute a sexual act). Accidental touching does not apply here; the defendant must make contact with the victim with the intent to abuse the victim or to satisfy the defendant's or another person's sexual desire.
Here, too, the crimes must occur in a federal facility or within the special maritime jurisdiction of the U.S.
Penalties for violations vary depending on the type of offense, but include fines and prison terms ranging from two years to life.
Offenses Resulting in Death
Finally, if in the course of committing any of the above crimes the defendant murders the victim, the defendant can be sentenced to death or imprisoned for life.
Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children
A series of federal offenses apply in cases where children are sexually abused or otherwise exploited. These include cases where minors are recruited to engage in sexual conduct or are depicted in sexually explicit images or videos. Those acts become federal offenses when the minor is transported across state lines, when the offense involves an interstate financial transaction, or when the offense takes place outside of the U.S., but the images or videos are made available in the U.S.
Penalties for violating these laws are severe, and range from 15 years to life in prison depending on the offense.
Serious Federal Criminal Accusations Require a Serious Defense
If you have been accused of any kind of federal sexual abuse or exploitation offense, it is vital to your future that you get experienced legal help as soon as possible. Being convicted under these statutes can mean spending decades – if not the rest of your life – in prison. Our legal system gives you the right to be represented by counsel in the criminal case against you. When the stakes are as high as they are with crimes such as these, you need to have an attorney at your side who can help you prepare the strongest defense possible.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and fortitude necessary to represent you in serious federal criminal matters, such as when you face federal sexual abuse or sexual exploitation charges. Call Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or reach out through our contact form to learn how they can help you defend your case.