Latest News 2017 January So You've Been Accused of a Sex Crime-Do You Know What That Means?

So You've Been Accused of a Sex Crime-Do You Know What That Means?

Sex crimes are some of the most serious offenses any person can be accused of. While not all sexual offenses carry the long prison sentences of nonsexual violent crimes or federal charges, conviction of a sex crime carries lifelong consequences for the accused. Even when an offender finishes their sentence and has paid their societal debt, sex offender registration (and the social costs of sex offenses) continue to burden offenders for much longer than their sentences officially last.

If you've been accused of a sex crime, it is vital that you understand what you're facing. Knowing what your charges mean (and the relative harshness of the charge) will help you understand the potential consequences of the accusation.

Below, we outlined the definition and the penalties for the following sex crimes:

  • Indecent Exposure
  • Prostitution or Solicitation
  • Indecency with a Child
  • Sexual Assault
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault
  • Possession of Child Pornography
  • Statutory Rape

It's important to keep in mind that some states will vary slightly from the definitions given here—however, these are the most common sex crimes that have laws that define them in virtually every state. They range from misdemeanors to federal crimes, with a range of potential fines and prison times. The one thing they have in common, however, is a risk of sex offender registration.

Indecent Exposure

The most basic definition of indecent exposure is nudity of the genitals (or female nipples) or "lewd acts" in a context or form that is non-consensual, public, and inappropriate (for example, wearing a bikini on a beach vs. at an elementary school). Exposure also includes masturbation or sexual intercourse in a public place. In virtually all states, the court considers breastfeeding a vital exception to decency rules.

Indecent exposure is a sexual offense that is perhaps hardest to define. After all, a naked body is not necessarily indecent. People are not arrested for displaying the Venus di Milo or for creating nude figure drawings. These crimes are often based on context and the purpose of the exposure.

For example, in California it is considered indecent exposure for a woman to flash her breasts without consent for either her own pleasure or to offend someone else. Public urination as a single event is a crime, but it only becomes a potential sex crime if a child is present (or the exposure took place at a park or somewhere children are likely to be).

Indecent exposure isn't considered a sex crime in many states unless there is an intent to shock others or provide self-gratification. How serious the charge is will depend on the target. A person who exposes him or herself to children, for example, will likely need to register as a sex offender and could face fines and imprisonment.

Even if exposure to a child was unintended (e.g. public intercourse in a park at night), it is still a prosecutable offense.


  • Will vary widely from state to state.

Will I Need to Register as a Sex Offender?

If your behavior was witnessed by a child or was directed toward a child, sex offender registration may be required. It may not be permanent, but your crime will be a matter of public record if convicted. Most instances of indecent exposure do not necessitate sex offender registration, however.

Prostitution or Solicitation

The oldest profession in the world has experienced periods of increased prosecution and laxity throughout American history, but it has almost always been illegal in one form or another. Solicitation and prostitution are not usually prosecuted with the same harshness as other sex crimes, but that may not be the case for repeat offenders or if the crime involves other charges (i.e. soliciting a minor).

Being charged with prostitution or solicitation does not actually require committing the act—any kind of offer for or willingness to accept money for sexual acts is enough to be arrested. For first-time offenders, prostitution or solicitation between two adults is often charged as a misdemeanor.


  • Prostitution penalties will vary from state to state, from 15 days in jail to up to a year in jail
  • Solicitation penalties will vary as well, but first-timer offenders get between 30 days and 6 months jail time. Some states may offer probation instead.
  • Fines can range from $100 to $1000 for felony offenses.
  • Felony solicitation comes from committing this crime while HIV infected or from being a repeat offender.

Will I Need to Register as a Sex Offender?

  • Until recently, Louisiana was the only state that would require solicitation penalties to include sex offender registration.
  • It is highly unlikely that you'll need to register as a sex offender for this offense.

Indecency with a Child (or Child Molestation)

The definition of child molestation is the commitment of "lewd" or "indecent" acts with a child under the age of 14. The classification of molestation often specifically includes genital touching, either by compelling the child to touch the offender or forced contact from the offender to the child. The genital touching includes over-the-clothes groping, oral-genital contact, and the attempt to solicit sex.

While molestation is considered a form of sexual assault of a child, it is a distinct charge from rape or attempted rape in many states.

In these cases, an age difference of at least 3 years is required for the charge—in some cases, even minors can be charged with molestation given a large enough age difference.

There is no available defense argument of "consent" when it comes to minors 14 and younger. Even if a 14-year-old claims to have had consensual sexual contact with an adult, the adult will be charged and tried.


  • Up to 25 years for forced contact with a child 10 or under.
  • Up to 14 years for pressuring a child into sexual contact (25 if they're under 10 YO).
  • Up to 18 years for molestation that involves no physical contact, but include inappropriate actions.
  • Life sentence if the sexual contact involved a threat of violence or attempted rape.
  • Potential life sentence if this is a repeated charge.

Will I Need to Register as a Sex Offender?

If you are convicted of child molestation, you will absolutely be forced to register as a sex offender. If outright acquittal seems unlikely, your defense attorney may attempt to reduce the charge instead.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a broad area of sex crimes that are non-consensual. Any sexual contact, from fondling to attempted rape, fall under the umbrella of sexual assault. Child molestation, incest, and groping are all considered forms of sexual assault as well, as children are considered legally incapable of sexual consent.

Consent as a legal concept is currently evolving. The current definition considers it the "voluntary agreement" to participate in sexual activity. In most situations, that means people who are unable to make clear and informed decisions (minors, people with mental disabilities, people on drugs) cannot provide true consent.


  • Between 1 and 7 years, depending on the state.
  • In some states, sexual assault perpetrators are released early for good behavior.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.
  • For repeated convictions, larger fines and longer imprisonment.

Will I Need to Register as a Sex Offender?


Aggravated Sexual Assault

Aggravated sexual assault is a harsher sexual assault charge that is triggered by any of the following:

  • Use or threat of a weapon during the assault
  • Severe physical injury or disfigurement during assault
  • Use of a date rape drug
  • Sexual assault of someone who is physically or mentally incapacitated
  • Familial or authoritative relationship between the offender and the victim
  • Sexual assault that is committed by more than one person
  • Sexual assault that is committed during the commitment of another felony (e.g. kidnapping)


  • At the very least, you are facing the felony charges stipulated by state law: at least 5 years imprisonment (or probation, if your state allows such a program) and thousands in fines.
  • Minimum sentence if committed against a minor: 20-25 years imprisonment.

Will I Need to Register as a Sex Offender?


Possession of Child Pornography

Possession of child pornography is one of the only sex crimes that is a federal crime and can be punished with mandatory minimum sentences. In fact, the lobbyist organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums reports that federal sentences for child pornography offenses has increased by 500 percent since 2000. The rise of complex and unregulated internet economies has likely contributed to federal crackdown.

Child pornography is simply defined: it's sexually explicit or suggestive imagery of a minor. Child pornography is considered a form of sexual abuse and exploitation and is prosecuted as such.

However, the definition of child pornography offenses has broadened as well. In addition to having, buying, or downloading child porn in print or digital form, underage sexting has resulted in child pornography charges for minors and 18-year-olds in lawful relationships with minors. One case even involved a young woman who had to register as a sex offender for sending nude photos of herself to a boyfriend because she was underage.


  • For possession: no mandatory minimum, but conviction may result in serious fines and state sentencing.
  • For distribution, receipt, production, or possession with intent to sell: 5 year minimum
  • State laws may sentence offenders to 15-30 years in prison, in addition to fines and other penalties.

Will I Need to Register as a Sex Offender?

If convicted, you will need to register as a sex offender and your case will be a matter of public record.

Statutory Rape

Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a person under the age of consent (but usually over a certain age, such as 14 or 16). Some states will also call statutory rape "sexual intercourse with a minor." This crime is no less serious than other sex crimes, but it is distinct from sexual assault of a child, which is usually for victims who are under 14 years old.

Statutory rape is so titled because the actual sex itself is not forceful or violent—instead, the crime is sex with someone who cannot legally offer consent due to their status (i.e. age). Many defendants have been defended in court by their "victims," who insisted on the consensual nature of the relationship. For this reason, some states will include provisions known as "Romeo & Juliet" clauses.

Romeo & Juliet clauses allow older teens the ability to defend themselves from charges of statutory rape as long as the age gap between the offender and the victim was 3 years or less. For example, charges from sex between a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old could potentially be dismissed because the age gap is so close. This is not guaranteed, however.

Some states' Romeo and Juliet laws have provisions for teens whose relationships existed prior to one of the teens turning 18. That said, there have been cases where teenagers were charged with statutory rape despite only a few months of age difference.


  • Statutory rape is a felony and will include a prison sentence of a year or more.
  • Fines will also be included in the sentence, but that will depend on the state.
  • States with Romeo and Juliet provisions may reduce the felony to a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

Will I Need to Register as a Sex Offender?

Yes, all convicted offenders will need to publicly register. Critics of statutory rape penalties cite that sex offender registration is arguably worse than jail time, especially for young offenders, because it is a lifelong punishment.

If you have been convicted of any sex crime, contact a criminal defense attorney near you as soon as possible.