The crime of child molestation, also known as sexual abuse, occurs when an adult engages in indecent or sexual activity with a person under 18. This can be anything from fondling the child to penetration. It can also include sexual exploitation, such as when an adult solicits or uses a child for prostitution or to model, photograph or film pornography. The adult may use threats, coercion or force to make the child participate. Child molestation violates both state and federal laws, and is punishable by fines and imprisonment.
Child Molestation Can Have Different Names
Although child molestation is terminology commonly used in state laws, it can also go by different names. For example, California calls it a "lewd and lascivious act" upon a child. California also has laws to punish the different forms of child molestation that can take place, including lewd and lascivious acts by force or fear, oral copulation, soliciting a minor for lewd purposes and continuous sexual abuse. In Texas, child molestation is called "indecency with a child," which the state defines as a person younger than 17. Texas, like California, also punishes for the continued sexual abuse of a child. In other states, such as Alabama and Delaware, child molestation falls under the general category of child abuse.
Child Molesters Face Lengthy Prison Terms
Although the punishment meted out for child molestation can vary between states, it is often substantial. In California, an offender who commits a lewd and lascivious act upon a minor younger than 14 is guilty of a felony, punishable by either three, six or eight years behind bars and a fine up to $10,000. It can increase to five, eight or 10 years if other factors are present, such as violence and force. Indecency with a child is either a second-degree or third-degree felony in Texas, depending on the circumstances. If convicted of a second-degree felony, the offender faces between two and 20 years behind bars and a fine up to $10,000; with a third-degree felony conviction, he faces between two and 10 years and a fine up to $10,000. In Arizona, molestation of a child under 15 is a class 2 felony, punishable by between 5 1/4 and 14 years in prison, with the punishment increasing if an offender has prior convictions.
Child Molesters Register as Sex Offenders
In addition to imprisonment and fines, a convicted child molester is usually required to register as a sex offender upon release from prison. The public is able to search these registries, made available online by individual states. The federal government also provides this information in the U.S. Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Website. It combines the listings of all public state, territorial and tribal sex registries.
Victim Has Limited Time to Sue Molester for Injuries
Victims of molestation can bring a lawsuit against their molester for injuries caused by the abuse. However, the clock is ticking as there is an expiration date on the right to bring such suits, known as the statute of limitations, and it varies between states. For example, in Kentucky, a victim can sue her molester within five years of either the last act of abuse, discovering the abuse or turning 18. In Missouri, the victim must file suit within five years of turning 18 or within three years of discovering psychological or physical injuries caused by the abuse.
- American Humane Association: Child Sexual Abuse
- Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute: 28 CFR 549.93 - Definition of Child Molestation
- Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute: Rule 414 - Similar Crimes in Child Molestation Cases
- U.S. Department of Justice: Child Sexual Abuse
- U.S. Department of Justice: Citizen's Guide to U.S. Federal Law on Child Sexual Abuse
- U.S. Department of Justice: National Sex Offender Public Website, About
- National Conference of State Legislatures: State Civil Statutes of Limitations in Child Sexual Abuse Cases
- University of Alabama: Code of Alabama, Title 26, Chapter 14, Section 26-14-1 - Definitions
- Arizona State Legislature: Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 13-1410 - Molestation of a Child; Classification
- State of Delaware: Delaware Code, Title 10, Chapter 9, Section 901 - Definitions
- Photo Credit shuravaya/iStock/Getty Images
- Official California Legislative Information: Penal Code Section 281 - 289.6
- Wallin and Klarich: Child Molestation
- Texas Legislature Online: Texas Constitution and Statutes, Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 21
- Dick Law Firm: Texas Child Molestation
- Arizona State Legislature: Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 13-406 - Sexual Assault; Classification; Increased Punishment
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: Sex Offender Registry Websites
- Texas Legislature Online: Texas Constitution and Statutes, Penal Code, Title 3, Chapter 12, Subchapter A
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