A “sex crime” is a catch-all term to describe illegal or coerced sexual conduct against another individual, including indecent exposure, prostitution, rape, sexual assault, solicitation, and statutory rape. Each state has its own statute of limitations in which the State can file charges against the alleged offender. For example, if a rape is reported in Washington, the violation may be prosecuted up to three years after the victim’s eighteenth birthday or up to ten years after the alleged commission, whichever is later. Additionally, anyone convicted of a sex offense is required to register as a sex offender in their state of residence.
While sex crime laws have been in place for some time, emerging technology in the last few decades has ushered in an additional classification of offenses — internet sex crimes.
What Constitutes an Internet Sex Crime?
Internet sex crimes can occur in various ways, ranging from viewing and distributing online images of minors to using the internet to meet (or even attempting to meet) others for any illegal sexual activity.
Both state and federal laws make it a crime to engage in sexual-related contact with an individual under the age of 18 on the internet. This type of communication includes sending or exchanging photographs, explicit texts, or any other exchange that is sexual in nature.
Classifying Child Pornography
Federal and state law also prohibits the production, possession, sale, or distribution of pornographic material that shows a minor in any sexual way. Child pornography laws are being used by states and the federal government to punish those using computers and the internet to obtain, share, or otherwise distribute any sexual-related material involving minors.
It is crucial to note that child pornography, in any medium, is not protected by the First Amendment. The legal definition of child pornography, online or in print form, doesn’t mean there has to be an image (or images) of a minor actively engaging in some sort of sex. A picture of a nude child can be deemed pornography if it is sexually suggestive.
Classifying Communications With a Minor for Immoral Purposes
Washington State law makes it illegal for anyone to communicate with a minor, including verbal and electronic communication, for immoral purposes. Washington courts state that “for immoral purposes” means “for the predatory purpose of promoting the exposure of children to and involvement in sexual misconduct.” In 2019, the CMIP statute was amended so that anyone communicating with minors “through the sending of an electronic communication” risks a Class C felony.
It’s critical to consider sextortion as a sex crime, although there are reported cases of sextortion involving both minors and adults. Sextortion is a form of revenge pornography that includes non-physical forms of coercion to extort favors from the victim, which can be monetary, sexual, or otherwise used for leverage. Individuals extorting a victim often obtain nude or sexual images from online forums, over text, or even as a result of hacking.
Avoiding an Internet Sex Crime
Outside of intentionally producing, sharing, or storing sexually explicit images or videos of minors, it is essential to be extremely mindful when navigating the internet (including the dark web) in general. If you’re in a chat room or forum and the individual you are conversing with tells you or even suggests to you that they are underage, it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to immediately stop communicating with them.
Internet Sex Crime Penalties
Some sex crimes are considered both federal and state violations. A case might begin in federal court and be released to state court. On the other hand, a case that starts at the state level could elevate to federal court based on details of the case and severity of the crime. Sex crime cases can be tried in both federal and local courts at the same time, as the Supreme Court has determined this does not constitute double jeopardy.
A person accused of an internet sex crime may receive the following penalties:
Prison time: The exact duration will depend on the convicted individual’s felony class and if they are charged with multiple counts. If an individual is convicted federally, they will serve time in federal prison. If they are convicted in a State court, and the sentence is 12 months or less, time is served in the county jail. If the State court conviction’s sentence is 12 months and one day or more, it will be served in Washington State prisons.
Fines: Convicted offenders can receive a $500 crime victim penalty assessment, $200 filing fee, and $100 DNA fee. On top of these typical fines, the statutory maximum fines are as follows:
- Class A – $50,000
- Class B – $20,000
- Class C – $10,000
Sex offender registration: This makes it difficult for offenders to acquire gainful employment, find housing, be approved for loans, and other similar processes.
Community custody: Any sex offense plea will include community custody, which means that a portion of the offender’s sentence of confinement (in lieu of earned release time or imposed by the court) to be served in the community as the department of corrections monitors the offender. Community custody can last from twelve months to life after release or transfer from confinement.
Contact Vindicate Law for Help From One of WA’s Trusted Internet Sex Crime Defense Attorneys
If you have been accused of committing an internet sex crime, Vindicate Law’s criminal defense lawyers are here to help you get your life back. Contact us to consult with one of our attorneys about building a defense again your internet sex crime charges in Washington.