Every year, 1.3 million children suffer some form of sexual assault. According to a nationally representative survey, 42.2 percent of female rape victims were raped for the first time before they reached the age of 18 while 27.8 percent of male rape victims were raped for the first them when they were 10 or younger. In response to such a shocking and severe epidemic, many federal and state laws have been enacted in an effort to protect children from the danger of sexual offenders. In Massachusetts, child molestation, particularly child rape, is under Section 22A in Chapter 265 of the Massachusetts General Laws. Child molestation is also discussed in child abuse laws under Section 21 and 51A of Chapter 119.
It's important to note that child molestation as a crime is a very severe and serious thing. This sex crime can expose defendants not only to an extended jail time if they are successfully convicted, but also to a lifetime of dealing with the stigma of being a child molester. The Department of Justice defines the crime of child molestation as interactions or contacts that are deemed inappropriate at a sexual level, with a minor. In other words, this could extend to sexual stimulation, inappropriate physical contact, or sexual interactions between an adult and a child. Allegations of child molestation will always be taken very seriously by law enforcement, but it's important to note that they also need to be regarded very carefully, since the justice system needs to balance protecting children with the possibility that a certain person could be wrongly accused.
Child Molestation Examples
Child molestation is simply put, a form of child-based sexual assault. According to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, sexual assault against a child can be identified as interactions or contact between a child and adult wherein the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the adult. Importantly, sexual abuse does not only extend to issues of inappropriate contact, but also may include exposing one's genitals to a child or making children view pornographic materials.
In Massachusetts, Section 21 of Chapter 119 defines a "sexually exploited child" as anyone less than 18 years of age who has been subjected to sexual exploitation.
The crime of child molestation can sometimes refer to a wide range of activities that are perpetrated against children by adults. Usually, these activities will have some sort of sexual undertone, although that undertone might not always be obvious. While sexual activity can clearly fall into the scope of child molestation, this crime can also apply to other forms of inappropriate touching, including contact without penetration, or convincing a minor to view sexual acts. Even if the defendant never actually touches the child involved, if the minor is considered to be an instrument of sexual gratification for the perpetrator, then the charge may be for sexual molestation.
An allegation of child molestation may either be reported by the child involved, or it may arise in a mandatory reporting context. Professionals are legally obligated to report suspicions of child molestation as they arise to law enforcement officers. These professionals might include teachers, social workers, members of the clergy, and medical professionals. Suspicions of child molestation may also arise when a child exhibits certain symptoms that suggest abuse, such as sudden emotional outbursts, bruising, or a change in personality. Mandatory reporting is essential even when an eventual investigation determines that suspicions may have been unfounded.
Child Molestation Punishment
The laws surrounding child molestation crimes are covered under a number of different sections in Code 18 of the U.S. justice system. These sections are 2241, 2242, 2243, and 2244. If the abuse took place within one state, which is typically the case most of the time, it is not likely that it will be covered under federal laws. Instead, the matter will be taken to state court and handled there. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule, wherein federal law will always be considered. These include crimes that involve military bases, or government owned properties.
If trialed under federal law charges, someone who is convicted of child molestation will typically face a combination of prison time and fines. However, if there are any aggravating factors, such as a criminal history, then the charges for these crimes may be far more significant. Common punishments may include:
- Loss of parental rights
- Lifetime sex offender registration
Issues on reporting child abuse in Massachusetts:
- It is important that even failure to report suspected child abuse is an offense. - Punishment for failure to report is a fine of not more than $1000.
- For those who frivolously report child abuse, this is also an offense. - This will incur a fine of not more than $2000 for the first offense.
Sentencing guidelines surrounding child molestation are very complex, and judges usually need to look at numerous factors, including whether there has been any threat of violence or physical force, whether the child was injured, and whether the child was kidnapped. Suspects in these cases will have the chance to enter pleas of no contest, guilty, or not guilty, and their pleas may have an effect on the punishment they receive.
- Note that child rape in Massachusetts is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for life or for any term of years.
Child Molestation Defenses
In all circumstances, any charge of child molestation will be taken very seriously by the courts and those managing the case. However, it's important to remember that false reporting of child molestation is generally more common than most people realize. In the case of custody battles, family disputes, and emotional disorders among children, false allegations can easily occur.
- The best defense is generally to prove the falsity of the charges, and this is done most easily if the defendant can show that he or she was unable to commit the molestation, such as by showing that there was no chance to have time alone with the child during the alleged molestation period.
- The defendant may also attempt to suggest that the child has some motive to bring false charges against him or her. However, an attempt to attack the character of a child can be risky, since this approach can seem too aggressive.
- Alternatively, those who have been charged with child molestation, who believe that criminal acts have occurred against the victim, but that they have not actually committed them could attempt to establish who the real perpetrator was. Due to the trauma that typically surrounds molestation, children can sometimes suffer from repressed or altered memories about their experiences that prevent them from accurately remembering what happened. With the help of expert witnesses and trained psychologists, sometimes a defendant can shed light on the truth of a crime.
What to Do If You Are Charged
Anyone who may be accused with or charged with the crime of sexual child abuse, or child molestation, will need to consult with an experienced attorney as quickly as possible. Many courts will deal with this crime using very strict and serious guidelines, and your rights may not be protected fully if you proceed without the legal counsel that you are entitled to you. Remember that even if you believe yourself to be innocent of the charge, you will still need representation to help you prove your innocence, and it is best to seek the help of someone with experience in this particular area of law.