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Citizen's Guide To U.S. Federal Law On The Extraterritorial Sexual Exploitation Of Children

18 U.S.C. § 2423(d): Travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct
18 U.S.C. § 2423(c): Engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places
18 U.S.C. § 2423(d): Ancillary Offenses
18 U.S.C. §§ 2251(c) and 2260(a): Production of Child Pornography outside the United States
18 U.S.C. § 1591: Sex Trafficking of children by force, fraud, or coercion
18 U.S.C. § 1596: Additional jurisdiction in certain trafficking offenses

          Federal law provides “extraterritorial jurisdiction” over certain sex offenses against children.  Extraterritorial jurisdiction is the legal authority of the United States to prosecute criminal conduct that took place outside its borders.

          Section 2423(c) of Title 18, United States Code, prohibits United States citizens or legal permanent residents from traveling from the United States to a foreign country, and while there, raping or sexually molesting a child or paying a child for sex.  Citizens can be punished under this law even if the conduct they engaged in was legal in the country where it occurred. For example, if an individual traveled to a country that had legalized prostitution, and while they were there they paid a child for sex, that individual could still be convicted under this statute.  The penalty for this provision is up to 30 years in prison.

          Section 2423(b) of Title 18, United States Code, is a similar provision. Section 2423(b) makes it a crime for United States citizens or legal permanent residents to travel from the United States to a foreign country with the intent to engage in illegal sexual conduct with a child such as rape, molestation, or prostitution.  The difference between Section 2423(b) and Section 2423(c) is that Section 2423(b) statute requires proof that the defendant had formed his criminal intent at the time he began to travel.  The penalty for this offense is also up to 30 years in prison.  Finally, Section 2423(d) makes it a crime to be what is known informally as being a “child sex tour operator.”  This statute makes it an offense to profit by facilitating the travel of U.S. Citizens or legal permanent residents, knowing that they are traveling for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex with a minor.  The penalty for this offense is up to 30 years in prison.

          There are also some child pornography laws that apply to conduct overseas. Sections 2251(c) and 2260(a) of Title 18, United States Code both make it a crime for anyone to produce child pornography in foreign countries if they import the child abuse images into the United States, or if they intend to do so.  The penalty for a first time offender under these statutes is at least 15 years, up to a maximum of 30 years in prison.

          Finally, 18 U.S.C. § 1596 grants extraterritorial jurisdiction over 18 U.S.C. § 1591 (Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion).  In this instance, this means that federal prosecutors can investigate and prosecute foreign nationals who commit sex trafficking crimes against children outside the United States.  Section 1596 also allows the federal government to investigate and prosecute U.S. nationals and residents who commit child sex trafficking crimes in foreign countries (For more information on 18 U.S.C. § 1591, see Citizen’s Guide to U.S. Federal Law on the Prostitution of Children).

          For all of these statutes, a child is considered to be anyone under the age of 18.

Updated August 11, 2023