What Are Sex Crimes?

Sex crimes are a category of criminal charges that deal with sexual violence. These offenses can be prosecuted at the state and federal level.

These crimes are serious and carry a significant stigma. Convictions can result in jail time, fines and being placed on a sex offender registry. This can damage your reputation and make it difficult to maintain meaningful relationships with family, friends and employers.


Rape is a violent act of sexual assault. While the exact definition of rape varies by state, in general it is any sexual penetration without consent, including oral, anal and vaginal penetration.

Consent is generally defined as a person’s agreement, either verbally or through conduct, to engage in sexual activity. People below the age of majority, such as children and adolescents, cannot consent to sex acts. Additionally, any sex act that is committed with someone who is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless can be considered a felony.

Many states also criminalize prostitution, which is a business of selling sexual services for money or other consideration. Additionally, it is illegal to possess or create revenge pornography, which involves the creation or dissemination of explicit sexual content that targets a specific individual or group. Lewd conduct is another sex crime that involves public behavior, such as engaging in oral sex or masturbating in a public place. Public parks, restrooms and beaches are typically the most common locations where this type of sex crime takes place.

Sexual Assault

Most people think of rape and sexual assault when they hear the term “sex crime.” But there are other, lesser-known offenses that can have just as much a devastating impact on a victim’s life. These include lewd conduct (flashing genitals in public or to others), peeping (watching private sexual acts without consent) and publishing or possessing of non-consensual pornography, such as revenge pornography.

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Other sex crimes are based on issues of consent, such as statutory rape or sexual abuse. Consent for sex is generally presumed to exist between adults and the age of consent varies by state. However, there are exceptions to this, including incest and a lack of capacity to give consent due to intoxication or disability.

Some sex offenses fall under the purview of federal law, including enticing or engaging in sexual contact with minors and possession, distribution or creation of child pornography. Most of these crimes are handled at the state level, but some are considered serious enough to warrant federal prosecution. Other federal sex crimes include human trafficking, which involves buying and selling a person for the purposes of engaging in involuntary sexual activity.

Child Molestation

The felony crime of child molestation is committed when a person engages in sex with someone who cannot legally consent, such as a minor. Like other sex crimes, the penalties for this offense are severe. Convictions can result in long prison sentences, official registration as a sex offender (which lasts decades or even for life), and negative impacts on your career and reputation.

If you are accused of child molestation, it is critical to retain a lawyer immediately. False accusations are very common, but the consequences of a conviction can have a lifetime impact.

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The laws pertaining to this crime vary between states, but most jurisdictions penalize it harshly. For example, in New York it is a felony crime to commit lewd or lascivious acts with a person under the age of 16. It can also be prosecuted as sexual assault or statutory rape. If you are accused of this crime, the prosecution will be vigorous, and it is important to seek legal representation. Regardless of the state in which you live, if you are found guilty of any sex crime involving children, you will need to register as a sex offender.

Public Indecency

Public indecency is a broad category of sex crimes that includes acts like lewd exposure, the display of nudity or other body parts, and indecent fondling. This offense is less serious than rape or sexual assault, but it is still a crime that can have severe consequences for the offender.

For instance, in Ohio, a person can be charged with indecent exposure if they expose their private parts while in a public place that is “reasonably likely to be seen by the general public.” A first conviction of this sex offense is considered a misdemeanor, but it escalates into a class E felony when there are multiple convictions or if a minor is involved.

A criminal defense attorney could help you understand the details of this offense and the penalties that might come with a conviction. They might also be able to make arguments that prove your innocence, such as that you were only exposing yourself for medical purposes or because of reduced mental capacity.

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Federal Sex Crimes

For people facing sex crime allegations, whether it be a rape, sexual assault or any of the lesser-known crimes such as revenge pornography, a capable legal defense is a necessity. These offenses often carry severe punishments, including lengthy jail or prison sentences and hefty fines. They can also lead to being placed on the National Sex Offender Registry, which will have a major impact on many aspects of an accused person’s life.

Most sex offences fall under the purview of state laws, but there are a few that can be prosecuted at the federal level. These include sexual assault, which involves nonconsensual sexual contact involving violence or force, involuntary sexual contact with someone who cannot consent because of drug or alcohol intoxication, sexual activity with a person incapable of making their own decisions for various reasons and sex crimes involving children, for whom the penalties are usually much harsher.

Lewd conduct is another federal sex offence that can be punished by extensive jail or prison sentences and hefty fines. It covers crimes such as masturbating in public, giving or receiving oral sex and exposing genitals publicly, particularly in parks or beaches.

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