Sexual abuse is a serious matter. Sexual abuse can cover a wide range of actions, and these laws and rules can vary widely from state to state and on the federal level. Importantly, aggravated sexual abuse is one specific type of sexual abuse. It is the most severe type of sexual abuse and as such it is considered a federal sex crime.

The penalties and long-term consequences of a conviction of a federal sex crime are often severe and wide-reaching, with potential to harm your ability to work and your freedom to choose where you live. If you have been targeted for committing such crimes, rightly or wrongly, the outcome of your case will be the responsibility of your defense attorney.

This article intends to provide a brief overview of sexual abuse as a federal sex crime, as well as the specific differences that make an aggravated sexual abuse case. This information is not legal advice, as only legal professionals with a full understanding of your specific, individual case can provide such advice.

Sex Crimes Attorney helps clients across the United States who are alleged to have committed sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse. We are experts at understanding when aggravated sexual abuse has occurred and trying it at the appropriate federal, state, and local levels. We can help you understand your rights and way forward as a victim of aggravated sexual abuse.

What is sexual abuse?

To start, it is important to understand sexual abuse before comparing it to aggravated sexual abuse.

At its core, sexual abuse is typically understood as one individual imposing or engaging in undesired sexual behavior with another person. Sexual abuse can be marked by the offender taking advantage of the victim or the situation, or more specifically using force or other means to engage in such a sexual act, which can fall under the term of aggravated sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is one type of sex crime that is recognized within the U.S.

The law recognizes a sexual act as any contact between two or more of such body parts: the penis, the vulva, the anus, and the mouth, as well as any penetration, however slight, of a genital or anal opening by another body party, including a hand or finger, as well as any object, with intent to gratify one’s sexual desire or to abuse, humiliate, harass or otherwise impose unwanted sexual behavior on another individual.

Sexual abuse is a term that is defined at both the federal and state levels, and which laws apply depends on each specific case. Typically, if the situation violates any state law, the case will be heard in a state court. But, if the case breaks a federal law, the case will be heard and prosecuted in federal court.

An important distinction here is that even if the case is to be heard at the federal level, the state can also try the offender, as long as both state and federal crimes are alleged to have been committed. The U.S. Supreme Court determined that an individual’s freedom from double jeopardy is not at risk when facing conviction of both state and federal charges regard sex crimes.

Sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse are not the same charges. There is a significant difference between sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse as a federal sex crime

Sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse are two types of federal sex crimes. In order for sexual abuse to be prosecuted under federal law, the sexual abuse must take place in geographies that require the federal government to step in, such as:

  • Beyond a single state (if all the abuse occurs in a single state, the state or other local authority has jurisdiction to prosecute the case in accordance with their local governance)
  • On federal lands, such as military bases or installations, recognized American Indian territory, or other special maritime and territorial jurisdictions of the U.S.
  • In federal prison or any other prison, facility, or institution that holds parties in custody or pursuant to an agreement or contract, and said facility is affiliated with a federal department or agency.

Other federal sex crimes often encompass cases that involve children, such as sexual assault or the rape of a child, sexual exploitation of a child, child pornography possession, sharing child pornography with others, transporting children across state or international borders, sharing information about a child with intent to provide sexual arousal to others, etc.

Federal sex crimes that aren’t limited to children can include aggravated sexual abuse, sexual offenders with more than one offense, human trafficking, and any sexual crimes that cross state lines and/or are not limited to a single state in the U.S.

Aggravated sexual abuse

The most severe form of sexual abuse is aggravated sexual abuse. Aggravated sexual abuse is any case wherein sexual abuse goes beyond the established parameters of sexual abuse, typically due to the degree of force the offending individual uses. The term “aggravated” is applied because it means any situation that is made even worse due to one or more circumstances.

Aggravated sexual abuse is a felony sexual offense that is governed by both state and federal laws.

Aggravated sexual abuse at the federal level

The U.S. Constitution spells out cases of aggravated sexual abuse at the federal level, broken into three types of aggravated sexual abuse, as defined by the U.S. Criminal Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 109A, Section 2241.

Aggravated sexual abuse by force or threat

The federal laws regarding the topic define sexual abuse as any case of an individual knowingly forcing another individual to engage in a sexual act that meets any of the following conditions:

  • The individual uses force against the other individual, or
  • The individual explicitly threatens the other individual that he or she will be subject to serious bodily injury, kidnapping, and/or death, or
  • The individual otherwise imposes fear that the other individual will be subject to serious bodily injury, kidnapping, and/or death.

Examples of this type of aggravated sexual abuse can include when the offending individual, either alone or with other persons, kidnaps, physically threatens (for instance with a weapon or an object fashioned to make the victim believe it is a weapon), verbally threatens (explicitly states a threat), or otherwise uses physical force or coercion.

Punishment for this crime or attempts to commit this crime can include fines, imprisonment for any amount of years or a life sentence, or a combination of both.

Aggravated sexual abuse by other means

  • The individual causes unconsciousness in the other individual and engages in a sexual act or sexual behavior with the unconscious individual.
  • The individual administers to the other individual, whether by force, threat or within knowledge or permission, an intoxicant, drug, or similar-acting drug which results in impairing the individual’s ability to control conduct or appraise the situation, so that the intoxicated individual engages in a sexual act.

Examples of this type of aggravated sexual abuse include the offending individual slipping a drug into an unassuming individual’s drink to render the person unconscious in order to perform or engage in a sexual act.

For this crime or attempts to commit this crime, punishment can include fines and/or imprisonment for unlimited years, including life.

Aggravated sexual abuse with children

The federal crime of aggravated sexual abuse with a child or children pertains to any individual engaged or attempted to engage in a sexual act with any individual who hasn’t reached the age of 12 years or who has reached at least 12 years of age but is still under the age of 16 years, who is also at least 4 years younger than the offending individual, in the following geographic situations:

  • Crossing from one state to another, intending to engage sexually with the underage individual
  • Intending to engage sexually with the underage individual on any federal territory or special maritime jurisdiction of the U.S., as outlined above

An individual who is convicted of this crime shall be punished with both fines and imprisonment for at least 30 years. Furthermore, if the defendant has been convicted previously of federal aggravated sexual assault or a similar offense at the state level (as in, it would have been a federal sex crime if it took place in a federal location), the defendant must be sentenced to life in prison unless the death penalty has already been imposed.

State of mind proof requirement in aggravated sexual abuse

When the government prosecutes for aggravated sexual abuse with children, the government is not required to prove that the offender was aware that the individual who engaged in the sexual act had not reached the age of 12 years at the time of the incident in question.

Statute of limitations for aggravated sexual abuse

A statute of limitation is a legally mandated time period wherein a formal criminal charge must be brought or a legal proceeding must occur. For certain types of crimes at both the state and federal levels, for example, a crime must be prosecuted within five or seven years of its occurrence. In some types of crimes, the statute of limitations may be longer, such as 20 years from the time of the incident.

Importantly, not all crimes have a statute of limitation, which means they can be tried at any point after the offense. These crimes can be known for prosecution at any time, which means that such crimes do not have a timeline within which criminal charges must be formally brought.

Aggravated sexual abuse of the three types covered in this article do not have any statute of limitations, and therefore they can be prosecuted at any time.

Fact checking aggravated sexual abuse

Sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse are the same thing. False. Sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse are clearly defined by various laws as to include specific distinctions. For instance, sexual abuse may include an individual engaging in a sexual act that was unwanted by the other party, but it is only aggravated sexual abuse if the individual used force, fears, threats, or other means intended to render the individual unconscious for the sexual act.

An individual can be tried by both state and federal courts for the same case of aggravated sexual abuse. True. If the crime breaks both state and federal laws for aggravated sexual abuse, the individual can be prosecuted by both state courts and federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this does not violate an individual’s protection from double jeopardy.

Only sex crimes involving children are prosecuted at the federal level. False. Federal sex crimes can include a range of crimes, including but not limited to sexual crimes involved children. While child sex crimes are often tried at the federal level, other types of sex crimes, including non-child aggravated sexual abuse, can also be tried at the federal level.

No statute of limitations exists for aggravated sexual abuse at the federal level. True. While many federal and state crimes have a defined time within which formal criminal charges must be administered, aggravated sexual abuse at the federal level has no such time limit. This means that a victim can bring criminal charges against his or her abuser at any point, and the federal courts can try such offender at any time after the alleged event.

A strong defense is your best option for avoiding conviction. True. Federal courts treat federal sex crimes so severely, that you need a strong, experienced attorney who can fight your case on many angles.

Sexual abuse of any kind is a serious matter, and the courts act accordingly. Severe punishments for aggravated sexual assault may include mandatory minimum imprisonment terms, as well as fines and enrollment in the national sex registry.

At Sex Crimes Attorney, our experienced team of legal and professional advisors can help you understand your specific case and consult with you on the best paths of action for your defense. We work with clients across the nation, which means we are well-versed in the federal laws and laws that govern all 50 states. Call us today at 888-666-8480 to learn how we can help you.