18 U.S.C. § 2423, 2251
Traveling for Sex With a Minor
Most people expect the laws of the United States to end at its borders. Oftentimes, this is true, but not always.
Before the government can take criminal action against you, it must have “jurisdiction.” Jurisdiction is a concept that boils down to authority granted over a geographic area, or authority granted to regulate a certain kind of conduct.
18 U.S.C. § 2423 extends the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States to citizens or permanent residents that travel abroad, but it does not end there. There is a range of conduct and materials that are covered. We will examine parts of the relevant code sections in turn.
18 U.S.C. 2423
Section 2423 has 5 relevant parts.
1. Section 2423 (a) provides:
“A person who knowingly transports an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any commonwealth, territory or possession of the United States, with intent that the individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life.”
Part (a) essentially prohibits the transportation of a minor across stateliness, or using certain roads, highways, trains, or planes, for the purposes of engaging in prostitution. However, there is also a portion of part (a) that applies to any minor transported for the purposes of engaging in any sexual activity, whether it involves prostitution or not. That means that even though any sexual contact between the minor and an adult is not paid for, if the minor engages in any sexually explicit conduct, it will result in a conviction.
2. Section 2423 (b) provides:
“A person who travels in interstate commerce or travels into the United States, or a United States citizen or an alien admitted for permanent residence in the United States who travels in foreign commerce, for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.”
This is one of two parts that most people think of when they hear “travel for sex with a minor.” The bold portion above forbids a citizen, or a resident alien, from certain kinds of travel in the United States, and any foreign travel, for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with a minor. Note that the section does not mention that sexual conduct has to actually occur. Instead, section 2423 (b) only requires that someone intend to engage in forbidden conduct with a minor when they travel. Evidence of such intent can come from circumstantial evidence, meaning evidence that suggests a conclusion via a logical inference based on the facts.
Example: Dave books a flight to Europe after contacting a minor on the Internet. The flight is to arrive in the city where the minor lives, and Dave has suggested his willingness to engage in sex with the minor in emails. Dave packs bags, readies his passport, and arrives at the airport a few hours before his flight where he is intercepted by law enforcement,
Dave can be charged with travel for sex with a minor under section 2423 (b) because he intended to engage in sexual activity with someone he believed was a minor while traveling abroad. The minor need not actually exist, and completion of the sexual conduct is not required. The circumstantial evidence used to prove Dave was traveling with the purpose of having sex with a minor includes booking a flight to the city where the minor lives, packing his bags, and arriving at the airport ahead of the flight. His preparation to engage in sex is what would be used to prove he traveled for the forbidden purpose.
3. Section 2423 (c) provides:
“Any United States citizen or alien admitted for permanent residence who travels in foreign commerce or resides, either temporarily or permanently, in a foreign country, and engages in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.”
While 2423 (b) forbids traveling with the intent to engage in sexual activity with a minor, 2423 (c) forbids engaging in sex with a minor when you actually arrive. In a situation where a person did not travel with the intent to engage in sex with a minor, but still engages in sex with a minor upon arrival, 2423 (c) acts as a catchall.
4. Section 2423 (d):
Criminalizes the organization of foreign sex tours involving children or other “sexually illicit” activities. Consult a licensed criminal defense attorney to learn more if you are accused of violating section 2423 (d).
5. Section 2423 (e):
Makes any attempt or conspiracy, an agreement between two or more people, to violate section 2423 can be punished as if the crime itself had been completed.
Violations of section 2423 carry a penalty of up to 30 years in prison per occurrence, and could result in a number of unforeseeable consequences. Consult a licensed criminal defense attorney to learn what your case means for you.
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