Rape, child sexual abuse, and even internet sex crimes such as soliciting minors online and downloading child pornography are generally prosecuted as state crimes in Oklahoma district courts. However, sometimes, a sex offense will fall under federal jurisdiction. The United States government has jurisdiction over crimes which occur on tribal lands or federal property and crimes that cross state lines or involve international travel.  For example, if a computer user in Oklahoma shares child pornography online with another person in Oklahoma, the distribution of child pornography is a state offense. However, if the user distributes images that sexually exploit children to people in other states, the crime will likely be prosecuted as a federal offense.

There are a number of federal laws pertaining to sex crimes and, in particular, the sexual abuse or exploitation of minors. These crimes are investigated by dedicated units of specialized government agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the United States Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS). These agencies and their task forces attempt to eradicate child sexual abuse and exploitation through investigating and prosecuting sex crimes involving minors.

Federal Sex Offenses

Under the right set of circumstances, almost any sex crime can be prosecuted as a federal crime. However, there are certain offenses which are always federal offenses or which are more likely to be prosecuted by United States attorneys.

Child sexual exploitation and the production, distribution, and possession of child pornography are frequently prosecuted as federal sex crimes because they often involve transportation of a minor across state lines or the distribution of pornographic materials throughout the United States.

Sex tourism, or travelling for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex acts or sex with minors is also a federal offense.

Child Pornography

Federal law describes child sexual exploitation and the associated penalties in 18 U.S.C. § 2251. Under this statute, anyone who “employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces” a minor to engage in child pornography, or any parent who allows his or her child to be used in such a way, is guilty of a felony. The statute also prohibits solicitation of a minor to engage in child pornography and the production of child pornography.

The following statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2252 deals with the distribution and possession of child pornography. Federal law defines child pornography as visual depictions of an actual minor or a computer-generated likeness of a minor that is indistinguishable from an actual minor involved in sexually explicit conduct or whose body is displayed in a “lascivious exhibition.” Although the legal age for consent to sex in Oklahoma is 16, federal law defines a minor as a person under the age of 18. No one under the age of 18 may appear in pornographic images or may engage in commercial sex acts including prostitution, exotic dancing, and adult films.

While federal statutes outline the penalties associated with child pornography conviction, the United States Sentencing Commission provides a table that outlines the penalty range in correlation with certain elements of the offense:

Production of Child Pornography

  • No prior sex conviction – 15 to 30 years
  • Prior sex conviction – 25 to 50 years
  • Two or more prior sex convictions – 35 years to life
  • Receipt, Distribution, or Transportation of Child Pornography
  • No prior sex conviction – 5 to 20 years
  • Prior sex conviction – 15 to 40 years
  • Possession of Child Pornography
  • No prior sex conviction – 0 to 10 years or 0 to 20 years, depending on the age of the victim
  • Prior sex conviction – 10 to 20 years

Federal child pornography cases are investigated by highly specialized agencies and task forces including the Innocent Images National Initiative, Endangered Child Alert Program, Operation Rescue Me, Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC), Operation Predator, and Innocence Lost National Initiative.

Sex Trafficking

Human trafficking has become a key area of focus for federal law enforcement agencies, with reports indicating that human trafficking in the United States is a $9.5 billion enterprise. FBI statistics indicated that nearly 300,000 children are at risk of becoming sexually exploited each year, and the average age of children entering into prostitution is 11 to 14 (12-14 for girls; 11-13 for boys and transgender youth).

Through the Innocence Lost National Initiative and the FBI’s Operation Cross Country stings, hundreds of children have been rescued from child sex trafficking, and thousands of adults have been prosecuted and convicted for trafficking in children.

Federal legislation governing human trafficking includes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Acts (2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013). The federal statute dealing with child sex trafficking is found in 18 U.S.C. § 1591. Under this law, child sex trafficking through force, fraud, or coercion is punishable by 15 years to life if the child is under the age of 14, and 10 years to life if the child is at least 14 but under the age of 18.

Sex Tourism

Federal laws pertaining to the extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children are found in 18 U.S.C. § 2423. This statute involves transporting minors or traveling for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex acts with children.

  • Transporting a minor with the intent of engaging in prostitution or any other criminal sexual activity is punishable by 10 years to life.
  • Travelling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct is punishable by 30 years to life.
  • Engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places is punishable by 30 years to life.

In this statute, federal law defines “illicit sexual conduct” as follows:

  1. a sexual act with a person under 18 years of age that would be in violation of chapter 109A if the sexual act occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States; or
  2. any commercial sex act with a person under 18 years of age.

It is important to note that sex with a minor in a foreign country is punishable by the United States if the act would violate U.S. law, even if the act is legal in the destination country. In other words, a United States citizen who travels to another country to engage in child prostitution can be prosecuted by the federal government even in child prostitution is legal in the country to which he or she travels.

Federal Criminal Defense in Oklahoma

Sex crimes are most frequently prosecuted by the state, but federal sex crime cases are increasingly common with a national focus on human trafficking and internet sex crimes. Often, federal sex crime arrests are made as a result of extensive undercover investigation and sting operations conducted by multiple local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Skillful and effective defense representation is imperative in fighting federal charges. Call today to learn how we can help.