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Sexual assault of a minor is criminalized in most countries in the world. In the US, the penalties vary from state to state. In some jurisdictions, the penalties are increased based on the age of the minor and the circumstances of the offense.
A "minor" for purposes of the offense of sexual assault of a minor is anyone 17 years of age or under. Some states make a distinction between sexual abuse and sexual assault. Sexual abuse is generally defined as touching and fondling of a sexual nature either through or beneath the clothes for the sexual gratification of either of the parties. Sexual assault is usually defined as an act of sexual penetration by the threat or use of force. In some jurisdictions, penetration with the use of an object or instrument falls within the definition of the offense.
The offense is almost uniformly a felony, subject to a term of imprisonment. The use of a weapon is usually an aggravating factor that increases the penalties for sexual assault of a minor. Other aggravating factors in various jurisdictions include making friends with the minor in order to engage in the offense. Penalties are also increased if the perpetrator held a position of trust in relationship to the minor. Positions of trust include those of teachers, counselors, and clergy.
The specific age of the minor is also a factor in the penalties for sexual assault of a minor. In most states, the penalties increase as the age of the minor decreases. In some states for instance, if the victim is a child under the age of 14, the felony will be of a higher class. The higher the class of felony the greater the minimum and maximum sentencing ranges. In states that use indeterminate sentencing, where there is no fixed sentencing term, the penalty can be any term of years to life imprisonment.
Sexual assault of a minor is a federal crime when it occurs in federal maritime jurisdiction, a US territory, of if the victim is taken across state lines for commission of the offense. The penalties are enhanced if the victim has not yet attained the age of 12. The sentence can range from any term of years to life imprisonment, and a conviction for a second offense carries a mandatory life imprisonment term.
In most states in the US, anyone convicted of sexual assault of a minor must register as a sex offender. The registration must be renewed anytime the offender moves to a new address. The requirement of registering as a sex offender can last for life. Most states maintain databases of all registered sex offenders, and the information is available to the public. Failing to register at the appropriate times is itself a criminal offense, and results in a parole violation and a return to prison.
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