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What is extraterritorial sexual exploitation of a child?

A Louisiana resident may think that if he travels to another country, he is not subject to the laws of the United States during his travels. That is not the case, however, with regard to what is deemed extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children. It is a federal crime to travel outside of the United States with the intent to engage in sexual conduct with a minor, or to aid another person in traveling with this goal.

The government has the authority to prosecute these crimes via what is known as extraterritorial jurisdiction, and therefore can investigate, prosecute and penalize crimes that did not physically occur in the United States. Attorneys with the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the federal government are tasked with investigating and prosecuting these cases.

The United States Department of Justice has received reports of violations of federal law related to the sexual exploitation of children from across the globe, from South America to Southeast Asia to Europe, and will prosecute an alleged offender regardless of where the incident occurred. Furthermore, even if the sexual activity is legal in a particular foreign country, such as legalized prostitution that occurs with a child under age 18, a person could be prosecuted under federal law in the United States.

The crime of exploiting children in a foreign country is considered to be a serious crime by the federal government and the potential penalties are harsh. A conviction carries the possibility of 30 years in prison, as well as fines.

A person accused of extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children should be cognizant of the potential long-term consequences of a conviction and actively pursue a defense that may help protect their rights.

Source: The United States Department of Justice, "Extraterritorial Sexual Exploitation of Children," accessed June 12, 2015

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