Internet sex crimes include online solicitation of minors, creation, possession, and distribution of child pornography, as well as collaboration and conspiracy to commit any of the aforementioned crimes. Illegal electronic sex crimes can also include “sexting,” which is transmitting of sexual images by text messaging using a cell phone. Internet crimes, depending on the circumstances, may be charged under state or federal statutes.
Investigating internet child pornography crimes can be especially challenging; because the Internet has no boundaries, the crimes may involve actors in multiple jurisdictions. This was the case in Operation Avalanche, an infamous two year investigation of a company owned by a Fort Worth, Texas, couple, known as Landslide Productions, which provided depictions of children engaging in sexual acts with adults. Conducted between 1999 and 2001, the investigation involved searches in 37 states and numerous foreign websites. In one month, the company earned a staggering $1.4 million.
In 2010, the U.S. Justice Department reported that it had identified millions of computers engaged in peer-to-peer sharing of child pornography files in the United States.
Under Texas law, employing a minor under 18 for a sexual performance is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. If the child is under age 14, the charge becomes a first-degree felony, punishable by five to 99 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Possession of child pornography is charged as a third-degree felony under Texas state law, with a potential sentence of two to ten years and/or a fine of up to $10,000; however, if the accused is found to possess six or more identical pornographic images of a child, state law presumes an intent to distribute, which is a second-degree felony.
The Internet leaves open avenues for adults to contact and coerce young children. According to a United States Department of Justice survey, one in every seven young Internet users had received an unwanted sexual solicitation; one in 17 had received a solicitation with a request for a face-to-face meeting.
When someone targets a minor who is, or whom the person believes to be, under age 17, and the online conversation becomes sexually explicit, leading to an attempt to meet face-to-face, that person can be charged with online solicitation of a minor. Offenders are usually caught in sting operations by law enforcement in which an officer poses as a minor and allows an online “relationship” to develop. If the conversation turns to sexual matters and the target suggests a meeting, he may be arrested and charged with the crime, even if the meeting never actually takes place. Online solicitation of a minor is a third-degree felony, unless the minor is under age 14, in which case it becomes a second-degree felony.
It is illegal in Texas to send or receive an image of someone younger than 18 years depicting a sexual act by any electronic means, including text messaging, including pictures of:
This is known as “sexting.” Adults who “sext” minors, depending on the specific content of the message, are subject to prosecution for distributing sexual images to a minor, for possessing or distributing child pornography, or for promoting a sexual performance by a minor, which are typically charged as felonies.
Many incidences of sexting occur between teenagers. In Texas, teen sexting of a sexual depiction of a minor under age 18 to another minor is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. If, however, it occurred within the context of a dating relationship and the sender and recipient were no more than two years apart in age, this may be used effectively as a defense, even if one of the two was over age 18. Sexting that is used as a means of bullying or harassing, however, may subject the sender to enhanced charges.
Internet sex crimes are serious offenses for which potential punishments are severe and life-changing. In addition to jail time and fines, if convicted, you could be required to register as a sex offender, possibly for the remainder of your life. These harsh penalties can often be avoided if a top-rated sex crimes defense attorney represents you. Call the offices of Mary E. Conn Law, a Houston defense lawyer with more than 30 years of experience in criminal defense and the highest obtainable ratings from clients and peers in the legal community. It is important to bring Mary E. Conn Law on board as soon as possible if you have been arrested or questioned concerning an online sexual offense. Make the call to Mary E. Conn Law immediately for your free consultation.