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Extraterritorial Sexual Exploitation Of Children

Extraterritorial Sexual Exploitation of Children

          The extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children is the act of traveling to a foreign country and engaging in sexual activity with a child in that country.  Federal law prohibits an American citizen or resident to travel to a foreign country with intent to engage in any form of sexual conduct with a minor (defined as persons under 18 years of age).  It is also illegal to help organize or assist another person to travel for these purposes.  This crime is a form of human trafficking, also referred to as child sex tourism. Convicted offenders face fines and up to 30 years of imprisonment (For more information, see Citizen's Guide to Federal Law on the Extraterritorial Sexual Exploitation of Children).

The Crime Today

           The relative ease of international travel in modern-day society has led to the growth of a dark, more clandestine phenomenon– the extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children.  The various modes of international travel provide easier means and more opportunities for individuals to travel abroad and engage in sexual activity with children.
          In addition, technological advances have revolutionized the travel industry.  The Internet allows individuals to quickly and easily exchange information about how and where to find child victims in foreign locations.  Violators are also finding it easier to organize and navigate travel to foreign countries for these purposes online.  Moreover, the utilization of the Internet may promote or encourage others to become involved in this form of child sexual exploitation.

American Offenders

          Each year, Americans are convicted of committing this crime against children. While some offenders are pedophiles who preferentially seek out children for sexual relationships, others are situational abusers.  These individuals do not consistently seek out children as sexual partners, but do occasionally engage in sexual acts with children when the opportunity presents itself.  Children from developing countries are seen as easy targets by American perpetrators because they are often disadvantaged by unstable or unfavorable economic, social, or political conditions, or their home country lacks effective law enforcement against this crime.  However, incidents of the extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children involving American perpetrators are reported and occur all over the world, including less developed areas in Southeast Asia, Central and South America, to more developed areas in Europe.
          Some perpetrators rationalize their sexual encounters with children with the idea that they are helping the children financially better themselves and their families.  Other perpetrators are drawn towards this crime because they enjoy the anonymity that comes with being in a foreign land.  Racism, gender discrimination, and cultural differences are among other justifications.  However, the reason for travel makes no difference under the law; any American citizen or resident who engages in sexual conduct with a minor in a foreign land is subject to federal prosecution.

CEOS’s Role

         CEOS attorneys work with the High Technology Investigative Unit (HTIU), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations (ICE), United States Attorney’s Offices around the country, as well as foreign governments and law enforcement personnel to investigate and prosecute cases arising under federal statutes prohibiting the extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children.
          CEOS is dedicated to developing strategies and long-lasting relationships with foreign governments, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors to more efficiently and effectively prosecute Americans sexually exploiting children in foreign countries. The enforcement of these laws abroad is part of the United States' effort to eradicate the sexual exploitation of children.  Offenders prosecuted in the United States often face more appropriate penalties than if they were prosecuted in the country where the sexual abuse occurred.  
          In addition, CEOS attorneys travel all over the country to conduct trainings for investigators, law enforcement personnel and others involved in efforts to investigate and prosecute this crime.  Moreover, CEOS designs, implements, and supports law enforcement strategies, legislative proposals, and policy initiatives relating to federal laws on the extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children.


Updated August 11, 2023