What Constitutes Sexual Exploitation of Children?

The very sensitive and uncomfortable area of Sexual Exploitation of Children under Federal Law can usually be summed up with a simple “if it seems wrong, it probably is.” Nonetheless, a detailed statute in the United States Code clearly defines what constitutes illegal child pornography and the penalties for sexually exploiting a minor. This “Child Pornography” statute also lists the possible jail terms for first, second, and third offenses. Federal charges for the sexual exploitation of children start at 15 years in prison, and could be as long as a life sentence.

The U.S. federal statute for Sexual Exploitation of Children is provided here:  Full Text of 18 U.S.C. § 2251

(Jump to Sentencing/Jail Time for Federal Child Pornography Charges below)

Federal Child Pornography Charges: Direct Culpability

In short, basically any activity by a person that encourages or involves a minor engaging or assisting in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct, or for the purposes of transmitting a “live feed” of such conduct, may be found in violation of the Federal Sexual Exploitation of Children under 18 U.S.C. § 2251. The statute focuses on the mailing, emailing, electronic transfer, file sharing, and any other transmission of the depictions through any means in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

The U.S. federal child pornography law charges individuals that knew, or should have known, that the depictions would be transmitted by such means, as well as charging individuals when such depictions, created by these activities and coercions, were actually transmitted through the various channels listed in the statute. Furthermore, if the depictions were created in another jurisdiction, with the purpose of, or actual transmission or transport into the United States, a federal offense under 18 U.S.C. § 2251 still applies.

Federal Child Pornography Charges: Parent/Guardian Culpability

Similar to direct culpability situations, whenever a parent or guardian of a minor knowingly permits such minor to engage in or assist in sexually explicit conduct for the same purposes, and such parent or guardian knew or should have known that the depictions would be transmitted in modes effecting interstate commerce, mail, or electronic, or the depictions or images were in fact actually transmitted through these channels. 

Soliciting Child Pornography Under 18 U.S.C. § 2251 (d)(1)

It is a federal offense to knowingly make, print, or publish, any notice or advertisement seeking or offering to participate in, or receive, exchange, buy, produce, display, distributor or reproduce any visual depictions involving minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct. This applies to all circumstances where the person knows or has reason to know that the notice, advertisement, or solicitation will be transported or transmitted through any means of interstate or foreign commerce, including computed communications.

Sentencing/Jail Time for Sexual Exploitation of Children

Sentencing for first-time offenders of the federal Sexual Exploitation of Children (Federal Child Pornography) statute shall involve a prison sentence of 15 to 30 years.

Sentencing for a second offense under these federal child pornography charges shall involve a prison sentence of 25 to 50 years.

Sentencing for a third offense under these federal child pornography charges shall involve a prison sentence of 35 years to life in prison.

* If, in the course of the offense under this statute, conduct results in the death of a person, the offense shall be punishable by death, or imprisonment for not less than 30 years or for life.

Due to the extreme sensitivity of this offense, and the substantial penalties involved, it is recommended that persons charged with an offense under the Federal Child Pornography statute contact an attorney immediately.