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Crimes Against Children

Public opinion treats crimes against children harshly, and as such judges and juries tend to do the same. In addition to the special sentencing provisions and lack of sympathy those charged with crimes against children generally encounter, they are also frequently denied the statute of limitation protections extended to virtually all other offenders. Nearly all states have statutes that either remove or extend the statute of limitations as it applies to some or all crimes against children.

Child Neglect / Child Endangerment

Not all crimes against children require direct action. Parents, legal guardians, and even other adults who are charged with the care of children have a legal obligation to provide certain care and safeguards to those children. The precise requirements vary from state to state, but may range from failure to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter and supervision to the abandonment of a child unattended or improperly attended in dangerous circumstances. Child endangerment may also encompass the actual act of placing a child in danger through reckless behavior, such as driving with a young child in the car without a seatbelt or safety seat.

Depending upon the degree and the state in which the violation occurs, child neglect / child endangerment may be either a felony or a misdemeanor. However, regardless of the potential jail sentence, child neglect / child endangerment charges carry additional risks, including the possibility of the department of child welfare taking custody of children and the possible loss of or restriction on licensing in areas related to child care and welfare.

Child Abuse / Cruelty to a Child

Child abuse and cruelty charges typically apply specifically to adults who have care and custody of the children in question. The seriousness of these charges depends on location and degree as well, and the subject matter of the charges may include actions that would be considered neglect in some states, such as deprivation of adequate food, shelter, and even emotional nurturing. Some states include mental/emotional abuse in child cruelty or child abuse statutes. And, of course, actual physical abuse, generally of the type that would constitute battery if committed by a person not having care or custody of the child, may be charged under these statutes.

In addition to the specific child abuse statutes typically applying to those in custodial relationships with the children who are harmed, most states include sentence enhancements for batteries and other crimes when they are committed against children. In many cases, the simple fact of a child victim may elevate a crime from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Child Molestation

Child molestation or child sexual abuse carries some of the strictest penalties in all of criminal law. These statutes encompass virtually any contact with a minor child, although the degree of the crime varies in some states depending upon the age of the victim. Under some circumstances, child molestation carries a life sentence. Additionally, some states make chemical or physical castration a condition of probation or parole in some child molesting or child sexual battery cases.

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Failure to Register

Many crimes against children, like some sex crimes with adult victims, have strict registration and reporting laws associated with them. In many states, registration carries monthly fees, and is required to be updated every ninety days. Registration results in entry in a database which is publicly accessible, and imposes certain restrictions on the freedom of the convicted person with regard to interaction with and proximity to children in the future.

Failure to register or to provide accurate and up-to-date information is in itself a crime, and may also violate probation or parole for those not yet discharged. As an independent crime, failure to register carries varied jail sentences. The most recent statistics available show that approximately 95 to 96 percent of those convicted of failure to register were sentenced to jail or prison time, with the average sentence being about 16 months. In addition, if the failure to register violates parole or probation, some or all of the remaining original sentence may be imposed.

Registration requirements are generally made clear to current offenders at the time of convictions. However, in some states past offenders, even those whose convictions are very old and were entered years before registration requirements existed, are subject to registration requirements and may be criminally charged if they fail to comply.

Child Procurement / Child Selling

Child procurement statutes today typically refer to the attempt to solicit a child for involvement in sexual activity, whether with the defendant or a third party, or for use in the creation of child pornography. However, in some states the term “child procurement” is still used to describe what is called “child selling” in other states. Child selling can relate to any monetary transaction regarding a child, but is most frequently used with regard to the exchange of cash for a child in an adoption proceeding. Both child procurement of the sexually-oriented variety and child selling are generally felonies, and procurement requires registration in many states.

Sexual Abuse

While a strict definition of sexual abuse does not exist, the severity of the offense is not in question. Sexual abuse involves the coercion through force or threat of force of a minor into sexual acts or the exposure to sexual materials. Sexual abuse is most often perpetrated by a family member or other person known to the victim, with sexual abuse by a “stranger” only accounting for 10-30 percent of cases. Most abusers are male, and, contrary to the popular myth, most are heterosexual. Sentencing for sexual abuse convictions vary by state and locality.

The Bottom Line

Crimes against children carry serious penalties-not just jail time, but the possible loss of custody, restricted visitation, sex offender registration, restrictions on future employment, even legal limitations on where you may live and work. In addition, child victims enjoy special protections that may change the very process of a criminal trial and the way that your rights may be exercised. Don’t face these charges without legal advice.

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