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Sexual Exploitation of Children - 18 U.S.C. § 2251

Federal Crime of Child Exploitation and Best Defenses

Under federal laws, sexual exploitation of children under 18 U.S.C. §2251 is a serious crime also covering production of child pornography.

Anyone who attempts to entice or persuade a minor to engage in a sexual activity for the purposes of taking pictures or making  videos can be found guilty of child sexual exploitation. 

Sexual Exploitation of Children -  18 U.S.C. § 2251
Child exploitation includes employing or coercing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct.

Child exploitation is a crime that results in the harmful treatment of a child and refers to using children for someone else's benefit.

Children can be exploited in several ways, including sexually and economically, but most cases involve illegal sexual activity.

Sexual exploitation includes forced prostitution or child pornography, while economic exploitation includes child labor, and child soldiers, among other dangerous work.

You could face prosecution for sexual exploitation of children even if the illegal activity occurred outside of the United States, but a prosecutor would have to prove you had intent to send, or make available, child porn in this country.

The penalties under federal law is severe, including a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and the maximum sentence of 30 years in a federal prison.

If you have been accused of child exploitation, you should speak to an experienced attorney as soon as possible to have the best chance at a favorable outcome. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review the laws below.

What Is Child Exploitation?

There are several child exploitation crimes under federal law. Sexual exploitation of children, more specifically the production of child pornography, is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 2251, which states:

  • “anyone who employs, persuades, or coerces a minor to engage in, or who assist or transports any minor in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the United States, with intent that minor engage in any sexually explicit conduct to produce any visual depiction to transmit depiction of such conduct…”

Put simply, the primary purpose of this subsection is to prohibit the production of child pornography and then use electronic communication, such as the internet, to share it

This statute also punishes parents or legal guardians of a minor if they knew and permitted their minor to engage in the production of child pornography.

Child exploitation can also refer to the buying and selling of children; this activity is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. 2251A.

The production of child pornography is even prohibited outside U.S. borders for any media that is meant for importation into the United States under 18 U.S.C. § 2260.

Further, 18 U.S.C. § 2251(c) lays out harsh punishments for anyone who:

  • “employs, uses, or coerces a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct outside of the United States or territories.”

Restitution is mandatory under 18 U.S.C. § 2259. It is illegal to receive child pornography and it's also illegal to sell children sexually abusive media such as photos or videos.

Child exploitation is also covered in various sections according to each state's laws. Several laws in California cover child pornography, and they can be found under Penal Code 311 PC.

 What Are Some Related Federal Offenses?

The crimes that are most related to child exploitation under federal law are the abuse of children laws.

  • 18 U.S.C. § 2258, if a professional learns that a child is being abused fails to make a timely report, they can face a failure to report child abuse charges;
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2252 prohibits sale or possession with intent to sell child pornography images;
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2252B prohibits the use of misleading domain names to trick a person into viewing obscene material;
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2252C prohibits the use of misleading words or images to trick a person into viewing obscene material;
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1462 prohibits the importation or transportation of obscene matters;
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1465 prohibits the transportation of obscene matters for sale or distribution; and
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1466 prohibits engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matter.

These related crimes have lower levels of punishment than child exploitation crimes and may be used in plea negotiations to avoid convictions for more serious offenses.

As many child exploitation charges carry mandatory minimums, it can be beneficial to work out a deal involving other related charges to help avoid these minimums.

What Are the Punishments?

Child exploitation charges under federal law carry hefty penalties. If someone is convicted, they can expect minimum sentences as long as 15 years and maximum sentences of up to 30 years in federal prison.

The buying and selling of children under 18 U.S.C. § 2251A requires a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison upon conviction, which can also be as high as life in prison.

The exact determination of how long someone faces incarceration for child exploitation is assessed and decided by the federal sentencing guidelines.

These guidelines are advisory and give the judge a range of months to decide on the minimum sentence that will be ultimately be ordered.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 2260A, registered sex offenders convicted of a felony involving a minor shall be sentenced to an additional 10 years consecutively after any sentence imposed on the new charged crimes.

If someone is convicted for an offense covered by this statute, the judge orders probation, and you will serve 10 years in prison and then probation.

What Are Some Legal Defenses to Child Exploitation?

Defending someone who has been charged with a federal child pornography or sexual exploitation crime is often complex.

A common defense to a federal charge of child exploitation is that the individuals shown in the sexual material are not actually minors and are adults capable of deciding whether to be involved in pornography.

What Are Some Legal Defenses to Child Exploitation?
If charged with child exploitation, we could use several common legal defenses for best outcome.

Another common defense is that while the sexual material is explicit, it does not depict sexual acts or activity.

A good forensic expert witness can help demonstrate whether the government properly searched the defendant's computer.

If the government did not properly search the defendant's computer, it would be difficult to determine whether there was an intentional search for exploited child material and media.

If it is shown that the defendant did not engage in an intentional search for exploited child media, then this can be a viable defense.

The experts might be able to prove the images or videos on your computer may not have been knowingly possessed and were inadvertently obtained, or quickly deleted.

Put simply, perhaps we can prove through forensics that the child pornography images were mistakenly downloaded.

If you or a family member was accused of violating any portion of 18 U.S.C. § 2251 or the related offenses, you will need to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to handle sexual related cases at the federal level.

The law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP has two office locations in Los Angeles County. We serve clients against federal criminal cases in California and throughout the United States.

We need to closely review the details of your case. Contact our firm for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570, or you can fill out the contact form.

We speak English, Russian, Armenian, and Spanish.

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