Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Child Pornography

Extraterritorial Sexual Exploitation of Children

International Parental Kidnapping

Obscenity

Prostitution of Children

Child Pornography

Q. Are the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) liable under federal law for websites that depict pornography on their servers?
A. 18 U.S.C. § 2258A requires that an ISP notify the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)´s cyber tipline if it learns of an apparent violation of federal child pornography laws, such as the use of its system to commit a child pornography offense. NCMEC then forwards the report to law enforcement. If the ISP knowingly and willfully fails to report the apparent violation, it is subject to criminal penalties .

Q. What should I do if I come across a website that exhibits child pornography?
A. If you have information that a website may be violating the law you should report it immediately to your local law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)’s CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com.

Extraterritorial Sexual Exploitation of Children

Q. What if an American citizen or national travels overseas on an ordinary trip, not intending to engage in sex with minors, but at some point during the trip engages in sex with a minor?
A. In this case, the American citizen or national may be subject to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c). Even if the person did not have the intent to engage in sex with a minor at the time he or she left the United States, such intent at the time of travel is not necessary. For example, an American citizen or national who travels to a foreign country without any such intent, but who engages in a commercial sex act with a person under 18 at some point during his stay in that foreign country, may be subject to prosecution.

Q. I am a travel agent. Do I have criminal liability if one of my client's goes overseas on a sex tourism trip?
A. It is a criminal activity to knowingly arrange, induce, procure or facilitate for profit the travel of a person when you know that the person is traveling for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors.

International Parental Kidnapping

Q. My child was taken by her other parent to a foreign country. Can CEOS get my child back?
A. CEOS is a section within the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice comprised of prosecutors. Prosecutors may bring criminal charges against parents who wrongfully abduct children abroad or attempt to do so, but prosecutors generally have no control over the return of children wrongfully removed from the United States or over further custodial decisions affecting the children. Rather, the U.S. Department of State handles the coordination of efforts with foreign officials and law enforcement agencies to effectuate the return of children to the United States. If the country to which the child has been removed is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Parental Child Abduction, in some circumstances, this treaty may facilitate the return of the child with the assistance of the State Department.

Q. Should I just go to the foreign country and try to rescue my child myself?
A. Taking the law into one's own hands is always a risky proposition. While you may believe that you know where your child is located and that you can easily rescue him or her, matters may be more complicated when you actually arrive in the foreign country. For example, the taking parent may have sought assistance from a foreign court, which may have issued a custody order in favor of the taking parent and contrary to the order of a United States Court. In such circumstances, your removal of your child from the foreign jurisdiction could result in civil, or even criminal sanctions against you by the foreign court. In addition, there have been circumstances in which taking parents have filed charges of child abuse against left behind parents, who then faced arrest and possible imprisonment when they arrived in the foreign country seeking their child. Needless to say, if you are imprisoned in a foreign country, you will be able to do little to facilitate your child's return. Moreover, taking parents who feel desperate enough may inflict harm on the child or an abandoned parent who has arrived to take back his or her child. All of these possibilities suggest that pursuing official channels to obtain the child's return is the least likely to result in adverse consequences.

Q. I think my child's other parent is planning to flee with my child to a foreign country. What should I do?
A. A recent amendment to the international parental kidnapping statute makes it a crime to attempt to wrongfully remove a child from the United States with the intent to obstruct a parent's custodial rights. If you suspect that your child's other parent has taken a substantial step toward removing your child from the United States, such as obtaining a passport for the child, obtaining airline tickets for the child, or departing for the airport with your child in an apparent effort to leave the country, or has engaged in any other conduct that raises your suspicions, you should contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation immediately. The Crimes Against Children coordinator at the FBI field office in your geographic region will be able to assist you. The contact information for the nearest FBI field office in your area is available at http://www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/fo.htm#cities.

Q. I am a citizen of a foreign country, and my child was wrongfully brought by his other parent to the United States. Who can help me?
A. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has created a program designed to match left-behind parents who are foreign nationals with attorneys practicing in the United States. This program, known as the International Child Abduction Attorney Network (ICAAN), is a valuable resource for parents new to the American legal system, and can substantially assist foreign parents who are seeking the return of their children in United States courts. For more information about this program, contact NCMEC's International Division at 1-800-The-Lost (1-800-843-5678).

Obscenity

Q. What can citizens do if they come across obscenity?
A. Citizens can use a variety of commercially available software "filter" programs to prevent access to Internet sites containing pornographic or otherwise offensive content. For example, these porgrams may assit parents in protecting their children from being exposed to obscene material. Methods, such as filtering programs, promote individual protection choices and simplify the task of parents and others who wish to screen out offensive and harmful material.  Additionally, citziens can report obscenity violations to law enforement. See Report Violations for how to report various obscenity crimes.

Prostitution of Children

Q. Does there have to be interstate travel before the prostitution of children can be prosecuted at the federal level? Aren’t prostitution offenses generally handled by state and local authorities?
A. Federal authorities work in tandem with authorities at other levels of government in the investigation and prosecution of many crimes, including the prostitution of children. 18 U.S.C. § 1591, which specifically covers the prostitution of children, does not require proof that either the defendant or victim crossed international or state lines. Accordingly, even if the criminal conduct was within one state, federal prosecution may be appropriate. In order for a federal case involving the prostitution of children to proceed, however, there must be some evidence that the crime had an effect on interstate commerce, such as through the use of phones, drugs, or hotels.

Q. If teenagers are voluntarily engaging in prostitution to earn money, why do you call them victims of crime? Aren't they criminals themselves?
A. It is true that prostitution is prohibited in most places in the United States. However, under federal law, children cannot consent to engage in prostitution or be sexually exploited. Because children are exploited through prostitution, they are considered to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of crime. Congress has indicated that victims of severe forms of trafficking, which include child victims of prostitution, should not be punished for activities they undertake while being trafficked. In addition, many minors who become involved in prostitution are runaway or thrown away children from abusive or otherwise dysfunctional homes. They are often lured into prostitution by sophisticated criminals who convince them not only that they will earn money to survive, but also that they will be taken care of and have the secure loving environment that they lacked at home. These promises are often honored only in the breach - pimps take the money a child earns on the streets and pimps engage in severe physical abuse to build a relationship of dependency. As a result, children victimized through prostitution are not typically voluntarily engaging in prostitution and should be considered victims.

Q. What are signs that a child is engaged in prostitution or is at risk for being prostituted?
A. In the United States the victims of child prostitution can be from any background, race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and neighborhood. Many of these children are from unstable homes that may be emotionally, physically or sexually abusive, although a great many are from seemingly “normal” homes as well. The children may be enticed to leave their home by a person offering false promises of “something better” while others may run away or are “thrown away” by their parents/caregivers, thus leaving them little to no options for survival. Some of the signs to look for include, but are not limited to, the presence of an older or adult boyfriend, unexplained absences from school or a drop in academic performance, sudden acquisition of expensive clothes or accessories, social isolation from friends and family, and drug addiction, which can manifest as changes in their behavior and erratic mood swings.

Q. What is "survival sex?"
A. "Survival sex" occurs when a child engages in sex acts in order to obtain money, food, shelter, clothing, or other items needed in order to survive. In these situations, the transaction typically only involves the child and the customer; children engaged in survival sex are usually not controlled or directed by pimps, madams, or other traffickers. Any individual who pays for sex with a child, whether the child is controlled by a pimp or is engaged in survival sex, can be prosecuted.

Q. What should I do if I think a child might be involved in prostitution?
A.If you have information about a child who might be involved in prostitution, contact your local FBI or law enforcement office, or submit a tip to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or by texting BeFree (233733) or to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.cybertipline.com or 1-800-843-5678.

Updated June 3, 2015