Austin Criminal Defense Blog
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As a result of the increased efforts of local and national law enforcement task forces to discover Online Solicitation of Minors or Importuning, Austin Sex Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson has frequently represented individuals who have been accused of communicating with a minor using the computer. In fact, the law in most jurisdictions allows for an officer to pose as a minor while communicating with a suspect. Soliciting either an actual minor or a police officer posing as a minor may result in the filing of charges and subsequent prosecution. A common misconception is that no crime is committed unless there is an actual meeting. In actuality, the offense of On-line Solicitation or Importuning may be completed merely through the communication or “chat.” If there is an attempt to actually meet, additional charges may be warranted.
Austin Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is well-versed in the various defenses that must be explored in all cases of this kind. These defenses may include issues of entrapment, client knowledge, or jurisdictional questions.
Accusation of soliciting a minor online can often result from entrapment-type situations commonly depicted on televisions shows. However, soliciting a minor online can also be the result of a mistake or an accident. For example, an individual can be charged with soliciting a minor when they thought they were communicating with an adult on the computer, but may have actually been talking to an underage person. No matter the reason for the false claims against you, it is important to contact an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer who will make every effort to find defenses or other mitigating factors that will result in an acquittal of the charges against you.
An allegation of On-line Solicitation or Importuning calls for great effort and resources, as the stakes are high – one faces not only a potential prison term, but also the stigmatizing and debilitating effects of sex offender public registration, which makes it difficult if not impossible to obtain employment, and may even severely restrict one’s ability to reside in certain locations.
Jurors are often familiar with programs like “To Catch a Predator”, giving them preconceived notions which need to be addressed and diffused. Our lawyers know first-hand that with thoughtful and extensive examination of pertinent case law and pre-trial motions, a successful defense of On-line Solicitation and Importuning allegations can be achieved.
It is important to remember that if you have been accused of soliciting a minor online, the state prosecutor is required to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be a very difficult burden of proof to meet, and any doubt in the mind of the judge or jury can result in a dismissal or reduction of the charges against you. Therefore, it is essential to contact an experienced Child Sex Abuse lawyer to help you begin developing the best legal defense for your particular case. Contact Austin Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson for a free consultation today at 512-832-1200 anytime, night or day if you have been falsely accused of soliciting a minor online.
Online Solicitation of a Minor Defined
Since the 1990’s, the internet has changed the way we communicate, do business, meet people, and almost all other aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, it has also led to new criminal charges, many of which carry steep penalties. The most severe online offenses are those related to the potential harm of an underage person, such as online solicitation of a minor.
Online solicitation of a minor is communication with a minor via the internet that aims to arouse, sexually gratify, harass, or arrange to meet a minor face-to-face in the real world. In Texas, a minor is any person who is 17 years of age or younger. Exchanging sexually oriented materials, conversations, or invitations with a minor is a serious legal offense in our state.
Sexual exploitation can result in numerous physical and psychological consequences for children that may be multiplied for victims of child pornography because they face a lifetime of possible revictimization through the continued distribution of videos, photographs, or computer images depicting their exploitation (Klain, 2001). The mass media continues to feed into the stereotype that all Internet offenders are “predators” or “pedophiles”. According to ABC World News Tonight in June 2006, there are approximately 563,000 registered sex offenders nationally. However, decades of research indicates that only ten percent (10%) of sex offenders are truly predatory in nature.
This is not to discount that Internet victimization is one of the most dangerous Internet threats, but society must be cautious in using such characteristics without empirical data to support such a homogenous label. In the National Juvenile Online Victimization (N-JOV) study, approximately seventy-eight percent (78%) of cases, the offender was one of the victim’s family members, second generation family member such as grandparents, uncle or aunt, or stepparents or parent’s intimate partner.
Children exploring the Internet for education and entertainment are at risk of encountering sexually explicit material, sexual exploitation, and Internet offenses while remaining undetected by parents. The Internet has become a conduit for sexually explicit material and offenses against children. Children are extremely vulnerable to victimization due to their curiosity, naiveté, and trusting nature. These crimes present law enforcement with many complex problems due to the fact that they transcend jurisdictional boundaries and often involve multiple victims in multiple states and countries. Internet crimes must be pursued vigorously by law enforcement.
The greatest obstacle facing law enforcement is that children and parents do not report the majority of Internet crimes. In situations where the abuse is a parent, a relative, or acquaintance, the abuse may be more likely to come to light inadvertently as a result of inquiries by social welfare and reports from neighbors, rather than as a result of police inquiries into online crime (Wolak, 2005, in press). Community involvement, parental supervision, and early intervention and prevention programs on Internet safety are essential in protecting children from online solicitation and exposure to pornography.
The computer age presents complex challenges for law enforcement, victim services, parents, legislators, and the community. The proliferation of computer technology obviously has enhanced our lives in many ways, such as enabling improved productivity and efficiency at work, school, and home (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). Unfortunately, this technology is not without potential threats and harm for criminals to prey upon innocent victims. According to ABC World News Tonight in June 2006, there are approximately 563,000 registered sex offenders nationally. End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (EPCAT) International reports violence and harms against children and young people in cyberspace include: the production, distribution, and use of materials depicting child sexual abuse; online solicitation; exposure to materials that can cause psychological harm, lead to physical harm, or facilitate other detriments to a child; and harassment and intimidation.
Today the Internet has approximately two hundred (200) million users worldwide who can communicate with each other. Children of all ages are browsing the Internet. Forty-five (45%) of children in the United States, more than thirty (30) million of whom are younger than eighteen (18) use the Internet. By 2005, it was estimated that there are seventy-seven (77) million children online. Approximately one hundred three (103) million people use instant messaging (IM) programs such as AOL’s AIM, Microsoft’s MSN Messenger, and others. MySpace.com reports more than eighty-five (85) million members and the number of visitors to MySpace went from 4.9 million in 2005 to currently over sixty-seven (67) million. Like most new technological developments, this brings both positive and negative implications, especially for parents and their children.
Some children are especially at risk due to a range of vulnerability-enhancing factors common to all environments. They are in socially and economically difficult situations, have experienced sexual abuse and exploitation, are lonely, or feel alienated from their parents. Others have low self-esteem, feel awkward, are confused about their personal identity and sexuality, and lack confidence. Gender is also seen to be a risk factor, with seemingly more girls than boys appearing to be harmed through cyberspace interactions (although boys are increasingly featured in pornographic images circulating online).
Demographics of an Internet Offender
Sex offenders and child pornographers are a heterogeneous mixture. Before the advent of the Internet, between one-fifth and one-third of people arrested for possession of child pornography were also involved in actual abuse. The majority are male and come from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds. Many are skilled in technology. Not all fit the clinical classification of “pedophilia”. The mass media continues to feed into the stereotype that all Internet offenders are “predators” or “pedophiles”. This is not to discount that Internet victimization is one of the most dangerous Internet threats but society must be cautious in using such characteristics without empirical data to support such a homogenous label. We have to remember that in a previous generation, campaigns to prevent child molestation characterized the threat as “playground predator” or “stranger danger” so that for years the problem of youth, acquaintance, and intra-family perpetrators went unrecognized.
In an analysis of 600 cases of child sexual abuse in which the Internet played a role, either the offender- victim relationship was initiated or conducted online, the case involved the online sharing or distribution of child pornography, or the case involved child pornography stored on a computer or digital media. One hundred twenty six (126) cases involved a face-to-face relationship between the offender and the victim prior to any use of the Internet in committing abuse. N-JOV data indicated that the Internet was involved in eighteen percent (18%) of all sex crimes against minors and that nearly half of the eighteen percent (18%) were committed by acquaintances or family members, with a total of at least 460 arrests a year. This study found ninety-five percent (95%) were non-Hispanic Caucasians and forty-seven percent (47%) were twenty-six (26) or older. Thirty-five percent (35%) were married and over a third lived in small towns. Eighty percent (80%) were employed full time and fifty-one percent (51%) had incomes ranging from $20,000-$50,000 per year.
Identifying Internet Offenders
There is no one type of Internet child pornography user, and there is no easy way to recognize an offender. In the 2005 Wolak survey, solicitors did not match the stereotype of the older male “Internet predator”. Many were identified as other youth and some were female. Having a preconceived idea of a child sex offender can be unhelpful and prove a distraction for investigating police. Those convicted of sexually abusing children will not necessarily seek out or collect pornography, with one study putting the number of offenders who do so at around ten percent (10%).
This explosion of computer use, and the ease with which identities can be concealed on-line, has offered obvious opportunities to those who produce and consume pornography and those who seek to exploit vulnerable populations for sexual gratification. The Internet technology affords perpetrators a foundation for repeated, long-term victimization of a child. These crimes present law enforcement with many complex problems due to the fact that they transcend jurisdictional boundaries and often involve multiple victims in multiple states and countries.
N-JOV data reflected that the most common use of the Internet with family (70%) and acquaintance (65%) offenders was for seduction or grooming of victims either through online conversations or sharing of pornographic images. Forty-nine percent (49%) of family offenders and thirty-nine percent (39%) of acquaintance offenders produced pornographic images of their victims, which they stored or disseminated using the Internet. Forty-three percent (43%) used the Internet to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Relatively small numbers of offenders (2-4%) used the Internet as an inducement to enter the offender’s home and use it to advertise or sell victims online. Seventy-five percent (75%) of these cases involved some form of sexual contact and forty-five percent (45%) involved intercourse or other penetration. In a quarter of these cases, the sexual contact continued for over a year before being reported to the police.
How Sex Offenders Select Victims
A greater number of sex offenders are using the Internet searching for potential child victims through “kid only” or “kid friendly” chat rooms, online games, and instant messenger. The “set-up” for victimization requires long-term thought and planning. But a distinctive aspect of interaction in cyberspace that facilitates the grooming process is the rapid speed with which communication can become intimate. Chat rooms can be frequented by sex offenders that groom and manipulate their victims by playing on the emotional immaturity of children in virtual anonymity. The goal of the “set-up” is to gain control over the victim. The length of time spent during the “set-up” varies upon the vulnerability of the child. The longer an offender knows a child the better they are at “zeroing” in their grooming tactics and strategies.
Grooming is a term used to describe the process of desensitizing and manipulating the victim(s) and/or others for the purpose of gaining an opportunity to commit a sexually deviant act [Title 22, Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 810.2(b)(15)]. Grooming inflicts psychological harm on the child. In teen chat rooms, the activities that precede the process of initiating direct contact with a child may simply involve the offender providing a description of themselves to all of the users of the public chat room so that the offender is masquerading as a particular kind of child, of a particular age, in the hope of attracting an equivalent age and the same or opposite sex child (i.e. 14/m/tx) (O’Connell, 2001). A sex offender may begin victim selection by observation in which an offender may “lurk” in chat rooms or massive multiplayer online games listening to conversations between children. An offender may search public profiles that include information such as name, age, location, hobbies, interests, and photographs. The offender will then wait for a child’s response and determine if they will initiate a conversation. After selecting a victim, the offender will introduce him or herself by instant message (IM) or by a private message to the child. Additionally, victim selection can involve viewing the child’s public profile. A victim’s information may be obtained through an Internet service provider request or a URL a child must provide in order to create their own website.
In the initial stages of grooming, the offender will suggest that the child move from a public domain to a private chat room or IM for an exclusive one-to-one conversation. The offender will engage in conversations related to school, home, hobbies, parental relationships, or interests of the child. The offender will gather information regarding the likelihood of activities being detected. The offender will manipulate the child to create an illusion of being the child’s best friend. The interactions take on the characteristics of a strong sense of mutuality (i.e. a mutual respect club comprised of two people that must ultimately remain a secret from all others). During these interactions, the child is praised, made to feel special, and very positive conversations are tailored to the age of the child. Gifts or money may be offered to the child. Sadly, sex offenders tend to target children who are neglected or come from dysfunctional homes. For these children, the sex offender offers an alternative relationship that makes the child feel special and loved.
The offender introduces the idea of trust, affection, and loyalty but it is based on deception and manipulation. This grooming tactic provides a forum to move into the next stage of victimization. The offender will begin to exploit social norms and test the child’s boundaries. The offender could ask the child “have you been kissed?”, “have you ever been skinny dipping?”, or “do you wear a bikini?” If the child does not respond negatively to the boundary violation, it is tantamount to accepting the behavior or language. During boundary violations, the offender has positioned the child into believing that they share a deep sense of mutual trust.
Offenders who intend to maintain a relationship with a child will progress carefully and methodically into sexually explicit language. The nature of the conversations will progress from mild conversations (i.e. “I love you” or “I want to kiss you”) to extremely explicit (i.e. masturbation or oral sex). The target child may be drawn into producing pornography by sending photos, using a web-cam or engaging in sexual discussions. To silence the child and ensure their continued compliance in sexual exploitation, the offender may use a variety of tactics including rewards, violence, threats, bribery, punishment, coercion, peer pressure, and fear (Klain, 2001). Research indicates that this pattern of conversations is characteristic of an online relationship that may progress to a request for a face-to-face meeting.
Child Pornography Under federal law, child pornography is defined as a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting, photograph, film, video, or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where it
- depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and is obscene, or
- depicts an image that is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in graphic bestiality, sadistic or masochistic abuse, or sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, and such depiction lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value (18 U.S.C §1466A and 18 U.S.C. §2256)
Sexually explicit conduct includes various forms of sexual activity such as intercourse, bestiality, masturbation, sadistic or masochistic abuse, and lascivious exhibition of the genitals. It is illegal to possess, distribute, or manufacture these images.
Pornography and Child Pornography on the Internet
Both adult and child pornography has saturated the Internet due to the lack of censorship by the industry. The Internet provides the social, individual, and technological circumstances in which an interest in child pornography flourishes. Cyberspace is host to more than one (1) million images of tens of thousands of children subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. Of the estimated 24.7 million Internet users between the ages of ten (10) and seventeen (17), approximately 8.4 million youths received unwanted exposure to sexual material.
Child pornography is the second highest category, after indecent exposure, of sexual re-offense behavior. The vast majority of children who appear in child pornography have not been abducted or physically forced to participate. In most cases the child knows the producer and it may even be their father who manipulates the child into taking part by more subtle means. Most children feel a pressure to cooperate with the offender and not to disclose the offense, both out of loyalty to the offender and a sense of shame about their own behavior.
Physical contact between a child and a perpetrator does not need to occur for a child to become a victim or for a crime to be committed. Innocent pictures or images of children can be digitally transformed into pornographic material and distributed across the Internet without the victim’s knowledge (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). Digital graphic software (i.e. Photoshop, Illustrator, Microsoft PhotoEditor) allow offenders to edit “innocent” pictures. After a picture is scanned into a computer, these image-editing programs can be used to put several photos together or to distort pictures and create a believable image of a reality that never existed. This process is called “morphing”. In some countries, morphed images or pictures are not illegal. Offenders may claim in court that a picture is morphed, no matter how disturbing, is not a picture of a real child or a situation which actually took place, and thus is not illegal.
In April 2002, the United States Supreme Court found that provisions of the Child Pornography Act (CPPA), which prohibited the depiction of virtual and simulated child pornography, were invalid under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court found that in the absence of a “real” child, the Court could see no “direct link” between such images and the sexual abuse of children. The Court’s majority could not see a substantial risk of producers of child pornography using virtual images of children. Additionally, children can be exposed to “virtual” pornography. Virtual pornography is legal the United States and in some other countries.
In the 2005 Wolak study, almost all of the arrested child pornography possessors (91%) used home computers to access child pornography and almost one (1) in five (5) arrested (18%) used a home computer in more than one (1) location to access child pornography. Additionally, Wolak found that in fourteen percent (14%) of child pornography investigations, the offenders not only had possessed pornography but had sexually victimized children and two percent (2%) possessed pornography and attempted to sexually victimize children. Eighty-four percent (84%) of the investigations involving child pornography did not detect concurrent child sexual victimization or attempts at victimization (Wolak, 2005). According to the United States Postal Inspection Service, forty percent (40%) of child pornographers investigated have sexually molested children. From January 1997 through March 2004, 1,807 child pornographers were arrested and 620 (34%) of these offenders were confirmed child molesters (Kim, 2004).
Although most Internet pornography is created offline, technology has evolved to create “real” life pornography that can be viewed in real time, using web-cameras, phone cameras, digital cameras, and streaming video. A user can be notified of the date and time to log on the computer to view a child being sexually abused. The advent of mini-cameras has allowed for pictures and videos to be created without the subject’s knowledge. The user may pay money or exchange images with the direct abuser (Palmer, 2004).
These illegal images can be presented in various forms including print media, videotape, film, compact disc, read-only memory (CD-ROM), or digital versatile technology (DVD) (Klain, 2001) and can be transmitted through computer bulletin-board systems (BBS), USENET Newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat, web-based groups, peer-to-peer technology, and an array of constantly changing world wide web sites.
Using Child Pornography to Groom Children
Children can be exposed to pornography through spam or potential abusers. The accessibility of pornography online, the ease and perceived anonymity of transmission, and the environment of “virtuality” itself makes the use of pornography in online grooming easier for an abuser. Pornography is a tool for inducting and socializing a child into behaviors that reflect the content of the pornographic materials. Sex offenders frequently use pornography as a tool to assist them in the grooming process.
Children exploring the Internet for education and entertainment are at risk of encountering sexually explicit material, sexual exploitation, and offenses against children while remaining undetected by parents. Children are extremely vulnerable to victimization due to their curiosity, naiveté, and trusting nature. The Internet has become a conduit for sexually explicit material and offenses against children. In 2006, Wolak reported fifty-four percent (54%) of boys and forty-six percent (46%) of girls received unwanted exposure to sexual material. Ninety percent (90%) of all solicitations happened to teenagers (ages 13 to 17). Eighty-six percent (86%) received images of naked people and fifty-seven percent (57%) received pictures of people having sex and/or violent or deviant images. Lastly, eighty-three percent (83%) of unwanted exposures occurred when youth were surfing the web and eighty-nine percent (89%) of incidents the senders were unable to be identified.
Sex offenders use pornography to escalate the relationship with the child. According to the Klain study, the most common purposes for which offenders use child pornography are:
- Pornography creates a permanent record for sexual arousal and gratification.
- Pornography lowers the child’s inhibitions to engage in sexual behavior.
- Pornography may be used to teach children how to behave, pose, or re-enact scenes.
- Pornography may be used to blackmail child victims by threatening to show the photographs, videos, or other depictions to parents, friends, or teachers. The threat becomes more potent because the child may fear punishment by the criminal justice system.
- Pornography created to sell for profit or trade between individuals. The Internet’s anonymity, enhanced by increasingly sophisticated encryption technology, facilitates the increasing demand for child pornography.
Repeated exposure to adult and child pornography is deliberately used to diminish the child’s inhibitions, break barriers to sexual arousal, desensitize the child that sex is normal, and arouse the victim. Children depicted in pictures are often smiling or have neutral expressions, a factor that appears to be designed to represent the children as willing participants in sexual or degrading acts. There is a recent trend for pictures to be taken in domestic settings such as a kitchen or bedroom, thus further “normalizing” the activity for children who view images.
It has been reported that children under ten (10) who have been exposed to sexually exploitative material have themselves become users of it. Eight percent (8%) of youths admitted to going voluntarily to X-rated sites. Children at most risk of being violated through pornography productions are within the home and family. The child knows their abuser as a parent, a relative, a guardian, or an acquaintance. In these situations, the abuse may be more likely to come to light inadvertently as a result of inquiries by social welfare and reports from neighbors, rather than as a result of police inquiries into online crime.
Reporting Internet Crimes
The impact of online child victimization (i.e. solicitation and harassment) is not completely understood. Family dynamics often play a significant role in children’s denial of a crime and their willingness to participate in the investigation and prosecution. A child’s ability to acknowledge and accept the crime can be linked to family values, peer pressure, and feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Only three percent (3%) of all incidents of predators harassing children on the Internet is reported. The Crimes against Children Research Center found less than ten percent (10%) of sexual solicitations and only three percent (3%) of unwanted exposure episodes were reported to authorities such as a law-enforcement agency, an Internet service provider, or a hotline. In 2005, only one (1) incident out of more than 500 incidents of sexually explicit material was ever reported to an Internet service provider.
Ninety-five percent (95%) of parents could not identify common chat room lingo that teenagers use to warn people they are chatting with that their parents were watching (NCMEC, 2005). Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents did not know the meaning of A/S/L (Age/Sex/Location) (NCMEC, 2005). Parents should watch for the following questionable abbreviations:
- 53x means “sex”
- 121 means “one to one”
- A/S/L means age, sex, location. Watch for personal information being exchanged (i.e. 14/m/tx). This is a 14 year old male from Texas.
- CYBER used as a verb and means “cybersex”
- CONNECT means “to talk privately”
- DIKU means “do I know you”
- ESAD means “eat sh*t and die”
- F2F, FTF means “face to face” or “let’s meet F2F”
- FOAD means “f*ck off and die”
- GP means “go private”
- H4U means “hot for you”
- H&K means “hugs and kisses”
- ILU means “I love you”
- IWALU means “I will always love you”
- KOC means “kiss on the cheek”
- KOL means “kiss on the lips”
- LTR means “long term relationship”
- LMIRL means “lets meet in real life”
- LUWAMH means “love you with all my heart”
- LU means “love you”
- MOSS means “member of the same sex”
- MOTOS means “member of the opposite sex”
- MUSM means “miss you so much”
- NIFOC means “naked in front of the computer”
- OLL means “online love”
- P2P means “person to person”
- P911 means “my parents are coming”
- PA means “parent alert”
- PAL means “parents are listening”
- PANB means “parents are near by”
- PM means “private message or one on one chat”
- POS means “parent over shoulder”
- pr0n is an alternate spelling for porn or pornography
- PDA means “public display of affection”
- RL, IRL means “in real life as in “wants to see you IRL”
- SWAK means “sealed with a kiss”
- TOY means “thinking of you”
- WIBNI means “wouldn’t it be nice if”
- WTGP means “want to go private”
- WUF means “where are you from”
- WTF means “what the f*ck”
Acronyms and words used in daily IM or discussion boards
- AFAIK means “as far as I know”
- BTW means “by the way”
- CUL means “see you later”
- HHOK means “ha ha only kidding”
- IANAL means “I am not a lawyer”
- IIRC means “if I remember correctly”
- IMHO means “in my humble opinion”
- KEWL means “cool”
- OMG means “oh my god”
- OTOH means “on the other hand”
- WUT^2 “what up with you too”
Characteristics of Youth Who Form Close Online Relationships
- Sixteen percent (16%) of girls and twelve (12%) of boys have close online relationships.
- Girls aged fourteen (14) to seventeen (17) were twice as likely as girls ten (10) to thirteen (13) to form close online relationships.
- High parent-child conflict and being highly troubled were associated with close online relationships. Girls with high levels of parent-child conflict report yelling, nagging, and privileges by parents at higher levels than other girls. The highly troubled girls had levels of depression, victimization, and troubling life events at higher levels than other girls.
- Boys who had low communications with their parents, and who also reported that their parents were less likely to know where and who they were with were the most strongly associated with close online relationships.
- Girls and boys who reported high levels of Internet use and home Internet access were more likely to report close online relationships.
- Youths with problems were most likely to attend a face-to-face meeting with people they first met online.
Warning Signs that a Child may be at Risk
- Excessive use of online services especially during the late night hours
- Unsupervised time in unmonitored chat rooms
- Mood swings and withdraws
- Greater desire to spend time with people online than with “real life” people
- Unexplained files downloaded (i.e. .jpd, .gif, .bmp, .tif, .pcx, .mov, .avi, .wmv, or .mpg)
Defenses to Online Solicitation of a Minor
People are often arrested and charged with online solicitation when they meet the minor in question in person. However, it is important to note that a person can still be charged with this offense even if the meeting never occurs. Despite this, a person may be found innocent of online solicitation if one or both of the following apply:
- He or she is legally married to the minor in question
- He or she is less than three years older than the minor
Solicitation of a minor laws have frequently been challenged by defendants on the basis that they violate a defendant’s right to free speech, but have survived such claims. Viable defenses remaining will depend on a particular state’s laws. Some earlier laws required a defendant to actually communicate with a child and defendants could raise the defense of impossibility where prosecution involved communication with an officer who was merely posing as a child but who was in actuality an adult. In response to the success of the impossibility defense, many state statutes changed their laws to permit a conviction based on a defendant’s belief that they were talking to a minor. Other states have also built in “Romeo and Juliet” defenses for a defendant who is involved in a dating relationship with a child who was not more than three years younger than the defendant.
Although not an outright “defense,” another defensive angle is to prove that the defendant did not know that the person on the other end was a minor. Most states have strict liability laws — which means the state is not required to prove that a defendant knew how old the child was, only that the child was underage. However, some juries have engaged in “jury nullification,” by finding a defendant not guilty if they believed that the defendant did not have a reason to believe the child was underage. Showing that the conversation was just an online fantasy or proving that they never intended to actually meet the minor are generally not good defenses. Before a defendant decides to pursue a defensive theory, they should discuss the practicality of the defense with a criminal attorney in their area.
Solicitation of a Minor: Misdemeanor or Felony?
Online solicitation of a minor is usually classified as a felony level offense. As with most felonies, the range of punishment can include a deferred or suspended sentence, up to several years in prison. A defendant in Texas can receive anywhere from two to twenty years in prison. Although a deferred sentence can allow a defendant to remain free, the restrictions of probation tend to be more intense for online solicitation charges because they are considered sexually related offenses. The court can order a defendant to submit to maintenance polygraphs, complete individual or group sex offender counseling, to submit to a sex offender evaluation, and to refrain from being around any children while on probation. The court can also require a defendant to pay for these programs which can run up to $500.00 or more per month.
The long-term consequences can be even more severe. Because online solicitation of a minor is considered a sexually related offense, a defendant can be required to register as a sex offender. If a defendant fails to register, they can be charged with a new felony offense of failure to register as a sex offender. Once a defendant has a sexually related offense on their record, some states will significantly increase the punishment for a second offense if a defendant is ever charged with another sexually related offense. Beyond the court system, online solicitation will also affect employment opportunities. With more open access to the court systems, more employers are performing background checks and will not hire certain candidates. Applicants with sexually related offenses are generally the first to get cut.
When you have been charged with a severe legal offense, it is very important to understand your rights and defense options. An experienced Austin Criminal Lawyer can help you decide what steps you need to take next. The attorneys of the Charles Johnson Law Firm are aggressive child sex crime defense lawyers who will make every effort to fight the allegations against you. Contact us for a free consultation today at 512-832-1200 anytime, night or day if you have been falsely accused of soliciting a minor online.
Arrested For Online Solicitation of a Minor? The Right Austin Criminal Lawyer Can Make a Difference
by Charles Johnson
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If you have been falsely accused of Child Abuse, it is essential that you hire a Austin Child Abuse Lawyer who specializes in these types of cases to protect your legal rights. A conviction for Child Abuse can lead to serious legal consequences, including the loss of your right to be around children, the loss of the right to be with your own children, and time in jail. A conviction for Child Abuse charges can also lead to more personal consequences like embarrassment and a life-long label as a child abuser. Courts, as well as the public, are generally eager to convict and punish an individual who is responsible for exposing a child to abuse. A child’s testimony may have the ability to sway the outcome of a trial, even if their testimony is not accurate. Austin Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson specializes in effectively and successfully defending his clients against Child Abuse charges. You can contact him directly anytime night or day at 512-832-1200 to discuss your case.
What is Child Abuse?
According to Chapter 261 of the Family Code (recodified in 1995), child abuse is an act or omission that endangers or impairs a child ‘s physical, emotional or mental health and development. Child abuse may take the form of physical or emotional injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, physical neglect, medical neglect, or inadequate supervision.
The law specifically excludes “reasonable” discipline by the child’s conservator, parent, or guardian; corporal punishment is not in itself abusive under the law. An act or omission is abusive only if “material and observable impairment” occurs as a result, or if it causes “substantial harm,” or exposes the child to risk of substantial harm.
Neglect, like physical and emotional abuse, hinges on substantial harm or observable and material impairment. The law excludes from its definition of neglect any failure to provide for the child that is due to lack of financial resources. A child living in poverty is not a victim of neglect under the Texas Family Code except in cases where relief has been offered and refused by the child’s parent, conservator, or guardian .
A person commits abuse if they place a child, or allows a child to be placed, in a situation where the child is exposed to “substantial risk” of injury or harm. The law also clearly states that a person commits abuse if they fail to make a reasonable effort to prevent another person from abusing a child.
If you have been charged with Child Abuse, one of the most important steps you can take is to not speak with anyone other than your lawyer about the details of the case. Often times, defendants incriminate themselves by speaking to the police or engaging in phone conversations where certain statements can be taken out of context.
You need a Child Abuse Lawyer who will treat your Child Abuse defense seriously. Being charged with Child Abuse could have a devastating impact on your life and the lives of your family. Austin Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will diligently fight for your rights, reputation and future. Contact him now at 512-832-1200 for expert legal guidance.
Physical abuse typically occurs when a frustrated parent or caregiver strikes, shakes, or throws a child because of anger. Other forms of deliberate assault that may be physically abusive include burning, scalding, biting, kicking, cutting, poking, twisting a child’s limbs, deliberately withholding food, binding, gagging, choking, or hitting the child with a closed fist or other instrument. If it results in injury, any form of corporal punishment may be abusive.
Physical injuries resulting from child abuse can run the gamut from lacerations, burns, and bruises, to head injuries, broken bones, broken teeth, and damage to internal organs. Context, circumstances, and the exact nature of the wounds usually set apart the injuries resulting from abuse. Specially trained professionals must make the determination whether a child has actually been abused or not.
Due to the delicate and sensitive nature of a child abuse case, it is important to have the advice and the counsel of a professional who is experienced in this type of case. Austin Attorney Charles Johnson specializes in cases that deal with Child Abuse. Don’t take chances with your future. Contact him today.
Unexplained Death of a Child
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant—a child between one month and one year old. It is frightening because it is strikes without warning, and medical science has been unable to determine exactly why it happens.
SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood) is the sudden and unexpected death of a child over the age of twelve months, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation is conducted. Similar to SIDS, SUDC is a diagnosis of exclusion – given when all known and possible causes of death have been ruled out. By definition, SIDS applies only to the death of babies younger than 12 months, while SUDC victims are past their first birthday whose deaths go unexplained even after an autopsy, a death scene investigation and medical history review.
The death of an infant due to SIDS or SUDC is a devastating event that can leave parents feeling sad, guilty, angry, and confused. Although we all do our best to keep children safe, sometimes the worst happens and kids suffer major injuries. If your child has been seriously hurt and you need legal advice, contact Austin Lawyer Charles Johnson anytime at 512-832-1200 for a free case review.
Shaken Baby Syndrome
There is a growing trend of misdiagnosed Shaken Baby Syndrome cases occurring in America today. Typically, a parent or caretaker is falsely accused of murdering or injuring a baby by shaking him or her, when the actual cause of the death or injury occurs from another source.
If a child is held by the shoulders or chest and shaken violently, often no external injury is visible. The impact of the brain on the inside of the skull may prove damaging or even fatal, especially if the child is less than two years old or is shaken repeatedly. Symptoms of injury include vomiting and seizures. An infant who is violently shaken may suffer convulsions, permanent brain damage, and death. A young child who survives a severe shaking episode may be blind, deaf, or otherwise disabled as a result. Even less violent shaking of older children may cause neurological deficits, as well as learning and behavioral disorders.
If you have been charged with child abuse involving Shaken Baby Syndrome, it is important to contact an immediately to begin gathering all necessary medical information and begin preparation of your case. If your child or a child you have been caring for has been injured or has passed away, you already have too much to deal with. Do not let overzealous prosecutors portray you as a violent child abuser.
Child sexual abuse remains, in the overwhelming majority of cases, a crime perpetrated by members of the child’s family and circle of trust. Sexual abuse is defined in the Family Code as any sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare as well as failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct with a child. A person who compels or encourages a child to engage in sexual conduct commits abuse, and it is against the law to make or possess child pornography, or to display such material to a child.
If you are facing potential Child Sexual Abuse charges, it is critical that you use a legal defense team with specific experience and expertise dealing with crimes against children. Call Austin Sex Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson at 512-832-1200 for a free, confidential initial consultation. Early intervention is critical to obtaining the best results.
Sexual abuse may consist of a single incident or many acts over a long period of time. Boys and girls of any age can be victims of sexual abuse. The molester can be just about anyone, but most often, it is someone known to the child. The abuse may escalate over time, particularly if the abuser is a member of the child’s own family. The child’s non-abusing caregiver(s) may be unaware of the abuse or may be in a state of denial.
Child sexual abuse includes fondling, lewd or lascivious exposure or behavior, intercourse, sodomy, oral copulation, penetration of a genital or anal opening by a foreign object, child pornography, child prostitution, and any other “sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare.” These acts may be forced upon the child or the child may be coaxed, seduced, and persuaded to cooperate. The absence of force or coercion does not diminish the abusive nature of the conduct, but, sadly, it may cause the child to feel responsible for what has occurred.
It is extremely difficult for a child to report sexual abuse. A very young child may not understand that what has happened is not normal or accepted. More importantly, the abuser almost always discourages the child from telling anyone about the abuse. The strategies for silencing a sexual abuse victim are as ruthless as they are varied. The abuser may be someone whom the child depends upon and trusts; s/he may use the child’s dependency and affection to extort a promise of secrecy. A more brutal perpetrator may threaten to harm and even kill the child or other family members or pets. Or the abuser may tell the child that the family will be broken up, the child blamed, or the child taken away from home if the secret becomes known. These are not altogether unrealistic fears for the child, unfortunately.
For many people, an allegation or disclosure of sexual abuse is indeed hard to accept. This is particularly true when the perpetrator is a family member or an otherwise law-abiding, respectable, and seemingly “nice,” “normal” person. Many adults have a tendency to overlook, discount, minimize, explain away, or simply disbelieve allegations of sexual abuse. Yet children rarely lie or invent stories on their own about being sexually abused. The fact that children can sometimes be manipulated or coached should not dissuade anyone from reporting a child’s revelation of sexual abuse. All responsible adults, but particularly those who work with children, should be aware that sexual abuse occurs and should be alert for the opportunity to aid a child who attempts to disclose abuse. The child’s need for support and protection must come first.
Sexual assault by a stranger versus a family member
Sexual assault of a child is a violation of the Penal Code, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a stranger or family member. Assault by a stranger and assault by a family member may involve similar criminal charges. In addition, an assault by a family member, especially one who lives in the household with the child, may be the basis for a civil action such as removal of the child from the home. In fact, assaults by strangers are much less common than assaults by persons known to the child. Perhaps the most common scenario for child sexual assault involves the male partner of a young girl’s mother (the girl is assaulted by her father, stepfather, or her mother’s boyfriend).
The child molester is sexually attracted to children (usually children of a certain age) and assaults them to obtain sexual gratification. While anyone of any age, race, or gender can be a child molester, this person is typically an adult heterosexual male. Most often, molestation is not a “stranger” assault, and may not involve force. Many child molesters relate quite well to children and seek out professions, jobs, or volunteer positions that give them access to children. They often make or collect child pornography.
Their methods of seduction may include bribes and the use of pornography depicting sex between adults and children the age of the intended victim. The relationship with the child may develop over a period of weeks or months, becoming increasingly coercive and invasive. Child molesters repeatedly offend and may molest or attempt to molest literally hundreds of children before being caught. The victims, while frequently befriended by the child molester, are generally not related by blood or marriage.
Molestation is an umbrella term that includes a number of sex offenses against children including, but not limited to:
A person convicted of any of the above acts will suffer extensive damage to their personal, professional, and social life in addition to other serious penalties and punishments including imprisonment, loss of rights, financial reimbursement to the victim, and more.
Austin Sex Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson has a wealth of experience handling sex crime cases and will work diligently to ensure your legal rights and interests are protected every step of the way. His firm is dedicated to thoroughly investigating your case, building a strong defense, negotiating with other parties to dismiss or reduce your charges, and more. If you want someone who is on your side, please contact Austin Lawyer Charles Johnson today for a complimentary consultation.
Sexual Assault of a Child as Defined by Law
Like all states, Texas protects children from sexual contact short of statutory rape. Like statutory rape, consent is not an issue, the age of consent is 17, and there is an affirmative defense if the two parties are close in age:
§ 21.11. INDECENCY WITH A CHILD. (a) A person commits an offense if, with a child younger than 17 years and not the person’s spouse, whether the child is of the same or opposite sex, the person:
(1) engages in sexual contact [defined below]with the child or causes
the child to engage in sexual contact; or
(2) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person:
(A) exposes the person’s anus or any part of the person’s genitals, knowing the child is present; or
(B) causes the child to expose the child’s anus or any part of the child’s genitals.
(b) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the actor:
(1) was not more than three years older than the victim and of the opposite sex;
(2) did not use duress, force, or a threat against the victim at the time of the offense; and
(3) at the time of the offense:
(A) was not required under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, to register for life as a sex offender; or
(B) was not a person who under Chapter 62 had a reportable conviction or adjudication for an offense under this section.
(c) In this section, “sexual contact” means the following acts, if committed with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person:
(1) any touching by a person, including touching through clothing, of the anus, breast, or any part of the genitals of a child; or
(2) any touching of any part of the body of a child, including touching through clothing, with the anus, breast, or any part of the genitals of a person.
(d) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a felony of the second degree and an offense under Subsection (a)(2) is a felony of the third degree.
Sexual Assault (Statutory Rape)
Forcible rape was a common law offense. Consensual sex with a child was criminalized by a statute by Parliament, and is thus termed “statutory” rape. The Texas version is found in TPC sec. 21.011 (2). It provides that an actor commits an offense if he or she
2) intentionally or knowingly:
(A) causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of a child by any means;
(B) causes the penetration of the mouth of a child by the sexual organ of the actor;
(C) causes the sexual organ of a child to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor;
(D) causes the anus of a child to contact the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor; or
(E) causes the mouth of a child to contact the anus or sexual organ of another person, including the actor.
Note that like the forcible rape version, the statute is gender neutral and includes sex acts other than vaginal intercourse. There is no element of lack of consent .
A child is defined as someone younger than 17 years of age who is not the spouse of the actor. Because the acts are consensual, there is, unlike in the forcible rape version, a spousal exception. Persons under 17 are presumed incapable of giving a valid consent, except when married. Age 17 is referred to as the “age of consent,”–the age at which the law assumes a valid consent can be given.
There is a defense of medical care: “(d) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2) that the conduct consisted of medical care for the child and did not include any contact between the anus or sexual organ of the child and the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of the actor or a third party.”
There is also a defense if the offender and victim are close in age, are not close relatives, and the offender does not have certain prior convictions for certain sex offenses. In these situations it is less likely that there is some form of improper exploitation of a young victim by an older predator.
(e) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2) that:
(1) the actor was not more than three years older than the victim and at the time of the offense:
(A) was not required under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, to register for
life as a sex offender; or
(B) was not a person who under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, had a reportable conviction or adjudication for an offense under this section; and
(2) the victim:
(A) was a child of 14 years of age or older; and
(B) was not a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01.
The statute does not say that the defendant must know that the victim is under 17, and Texas courts have not created such a requirement. Thus, (as in a majority of states) mistake of fact about the victim’s age is not a defense.
New Super Aggravated Offenses: Continuous Sexual Abuse Of Young Child Or Children
In response to legal issues regarding notice, election, jeopardy and unanimity, the 80th Legislature added Section 21.02 to the Penal Code, which defines a new offense entitled Continuous Sexual Abuse Of Young Child Or Children. The new statute provides that a person commits an offense if, during a period of time of 30 days or more, the person commits two or more acts of sexual abuse, regardless of whether the acts of sexual abuse are committed against one or more victims, and at the time of the commission of each of the acts of sexual abuse, the actor is seventeen years of age or older and the victim is a child younger than fourteen years of age. § 21.02(b). For purposes of this section an “act of sexual abuse”, includes aggravated kidnaping with the intent to violate or abuse the victims sexually; indecency with a child, other than by touching the breast of a child, or exposure; sexual assault of a child pursuant to section 22.011; aggravated sexual assault under section 22.021; burglary with the intent to commit one of the foregoing offenses; and sexual performance by a child under section 43.25. §21.02(c), P.C.
It is imperative that you contact Austin Lawyer Charles Johnson immediately when you learn that you are under investigation for this serious offense. You can reach him directly at 512-832-1200 to discuss your options.
Penalties for Child Abuse and Sentencing
A person charged with child abuse faces a wide range of penalties and sentencing possibilities, depending on several factors. These include the state where the abuse took place, the age of the child, whether the offense involved sexual abuse, whether the child was physically or mentally injured, and the criminal history of the offender.
Sentencing for child abuse and neglect cases is often difficult for everyone involved — especially since child abuse cases are often highly publicized and the potential for a social stigma on the family is great.
In most states, child abuse may be charged as either a felony or a less serious offense depending on the circumstances. The most severe cases of child abuse may carry felony lifetime sentences, while the least serious cases are considered gross misdemeanors with potentially no jail time. Punishment will typically be more severe if the offender has a prior record of criminal child abuse activity and greatly reduced if there is no prior record.
For sentencing purposes, a person charged with child abuse may enter a guilty, not guilty, or no contest plea. In a large number of cases, sentencing will typically include probation or a prison term of up to five years. Sentencing in other, more serious, cases may include a longer prison term.
Other possible penalties and/or consequences may include:
- Lifetime requirement to register as a child sexual offender
- Termination of parental rights
- Ruined reputation
- Criminal record
- Supervised access to the child
- Physical or actual loss and enjoyment of a child
- Continual involvement with a child protective services agency
People who fail to report child abuse or neglect also face penalties and consequences in some states with mandatory reporting laws. In those states, if a person has reason to suspect that someone is abusing a child, they must report it through a hotline or law enforcement agency. Failure to report such cases in a timely manner is considered a misdemeanor in most states and may result in fines, jail time, or both.
Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault of a Child Crimes
Felony indictments must be presented within these time limits:
- Continuous sexual abuse of a young child/children
- Aggravated sexual assault of a child
- Sexual assault of a child
- Indecency with a child
- Sexual assault of an adult if DNA evidence is present
20 years from the victim’s 18th birthday:
- Sexual performance by a child
- Aggravated kidnapping with intent to commit sexual offense
- Burglary of habitation with intent to commit sexual offense
10 years from the date of the commission of the offense:
- Sexual assault of an adult
- Aggravated sexual assault of an adult
Sections 21 and 22 of the Texas Penal Code define indecency with a child, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault and other sex crimes. In these cases, “child” means a person younger than 17 years of age who is not the spouse of the actor.
Possible Defenses for Child Abuse Charges
Defending yourself against a child abuse charge can be difficult especially if it involves the testimony of a child. Combine that with the media’s negative depiction of child abuse offenders and it may seem impossible to overcome the harsh realities of a child abuse allegation.
If you are charged with child abuse – whether physical, emotional, or sexual – a criminal defense lawyer can devise a sound defense strategy and help cast doubt on the prosecutor’s case. Like other crimes, a person charged with child abuse has the same rights as defendants of other crimes, including the right to defend themselves against a criminal charge.
While child abuse laws aim to protect children, the justice system is set up to vindicate those who are wrongfully accused. Below are some of the most common (and some not so common) defenses that a person may assert on a child abuse charge:
False Allegations of Child Abuse
A common defense to child abuse charges is to say you didn’t do it. False accusations of child abuse are more common than most people think, especially in dysfunctional families or between parents who are involved in a difficult child custody battle. Although sometimes difficult to prove, the best strategy to defend false child abuse charges is to aggressively counter-attack allegations and show proof of the lie or similar wrongful conduct by the accuser.
The Injury Is a Result of an Accident
Most state child abuse laws do not punish accidents, unless the accident was a result of recklessness or gross carelessness. Examples of true accidents may include pushing your child on a bike and causing him to fall and scrape his knees or unknowingly slamming your toddler’s hand in the door. When a child’s injuries are a result of an accident, a person may raise this as a defense against child abuse charges but courts are split as to whether to prosecute parents who accidently cause harm to a child when acting with negligence (such as leaving a sleeping baby in a car alone on a hot day).
The Injury Is a Result of Something Other Than Child Abuse
Sometimes parents are falsely accused of child abuse based on non-accidental situations, such as when a child fights with another child and injures himself or when a child has a pre-existing medical condition that contributes to her own injuries. For example, one type of disease called “brittle bone disease” has been raised as a defense to show that one’s injuries were the result of a disorder that causes a child’s bones to break easily, and not a result of child abuse.
Parent’s Right to Discipline
Parents are generally free to discipline their children in any manner they choose, so long as the discipline is reasonable and causes no bodily injury. The question of how a parent disciplines a child (such as through spanking or threat of spanking), however, is often the subject of many child abuse cases. In certain circumstances, a parent, or one standing in “loco parentis “(such as a teacher), can raise the defense of “parental privilege” and claim that they had the right to reasonably discipline a child under their authority. However, if a child’s injuries are more serious than minor bruising as a result of the discipline, the parental privilege may not apply.
Religious Beliefs or Exemption
Even though it’s hard to grasp the thought of a child dying from an easily treatable illness, parents may claim an exemption to child abuse for religious reasons when a child dies because of a parent’s failure to seek medical care for their sick child. Although controversial, this religious exemption is a defense in all but a handful of states, and allows parents to escape charges of child abuse if they choose to pray for their sick children rather than take them to a doctor.
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
In rare cases, an individual accused of child abuse may raise the little-known defense called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP). MSBP is used to describe incidents in which a child caregiver, usually the mother, either lies about or promotes illnesses in their children in an attempt to draw attention or sympathy to themselves. This defense usually requires proof of psychological or medical data.
There may be other defenses available depending on the circumstances in your particular case. If you need assistance with defending charges of Child Abuse in Austin, Attorney Charles Johnson can help you understand your rights with respect to child abuse laws in your state. You can contact him directly day or night at 512-832-1200 to discuss your case.
Hire the Best Austin Child Abuse Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
The abuse or neglect of a child can have devastating effects on children and their families, as can false allegations, underreporting, and lack of knowledge. Child abuse is often zealously prosecuted and certain people are required by law to report instances of child abuse believed to have taken place.
When very small children are involved, the statements of the children themselves can be manipulated by the investigator. When older children are involved, the child’s behavioral or emotional problems can result in false accusations or manipulation of the investigator’s sympathy. In many cases, a child may simply tell the investigator what he or she thinks the investigator wants to hear.
The goal in a child abuse prosecution is to protect you from the criminal penalties that would follow a conviction and to protect your professional and family interests. Austin Sex Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson knows how to challenge the findings of a CPS investigation and broaden the inquiry to cover circumstances that show you in a better light as a parent or child care professional.
Child abuse is, of course, a very sensitive issue and Austin Domestic Violence Lawyer Charles Johnson will address your case with this firmly in mind. Any children who are involved in the case will be engaged in the proceedings as little as possible in order to shield them from this litigation. When their involvement is necessary to improve the chances of a positive outcome, they will be treated with the utmost care and respect. Attorney Johnson is well versed in all areas of domestic violence and abuse cases and is ready to assist you in your legal matter. Contact him directly around the clock at 512-832-1200 to discuss your case.
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Each year thousands of domestic violence cases are filed. While most of the cases have merit, there are many instances where defendants are falsely accused. Domestic Violence is an issue that affects every town, city, country and nation. Domestic Violence covers a broad spectrum of abuse between couples, spouses, family members or other people who live together. Family Violence allegations are quite severe. In the event you are found guilty, you could face prison time and various other criminal penalties. A conviction will not only destroy your reputation, but your future as well. You could be refused future employment, housing, academic loans and worse, access to your home and children. At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we see our clients falsely charged with Domestic Violence all the time. Whether you are innocent or guilty, Austin Domestic Violence Lawyer Charles Johnson will battle aggressively on your behalf in order to help protect your rights and your future. Get in touch with us Around The Clock, 7 Days /week for a no cost consultation.
All too frequently the news bombards us with news about a high-profile Domestic Violence case, where a man or woman is suspected of murdering their husband or wife, with or without a prior history of domestic abuse.
Violence. How can a individual turn from loving and living with a person to beating them up or murdering them? What kind of an individual resorts to Domestic Violence against their spouse or domestic intimate partner? What kind of individual thinks it is okay to continually humiliate or talk down to their life intimate partner? What kind of an individual has sex with their partner without the need of the person’s consent and desire to participate?
A common pattern of domestic abuse is that the perpetrator alternates between violent, abusive behavior and apologetic behavior with apparently heartfelt promises to change. The abuser could possibly be very pleasant the majority of of the time. Therein lies the perpetual appeal of the abusing partner and why many individuals can’t seem to leave the abusive relationship.
Domestic abuse is most often among the following:
- child abuse
- abuse of a spouse or domestic intimate partner
- elder abuse
In this article, we explore domestic abuse between spouses and intimate partners: the types of domestic abuse, signs and symptoms, causes, and consequences. Domestic Violence and abuse are popular. The initial step in ending the misery is recognition that the situation is abusive.
How is domestic abuse between intimate partners defined?
Domestic abuse between spouses or intimate partners is when one individual in a marital or intimate relationship tries to control the other person. The perpetrator uses fear and intimidation and may very well threaten to use or could possibly actually use physical violence. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called Domestic Violence.
The victim of domestic abuse or Domestic Violence may be a male or a female. Domestic abuse occurs in traditional heterosexual marriages, as well as in same-sex partnerships. The abuse may occur during a relationship, while the couple is breaking up, or after the relationship has ended.
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to physical violence. Family Violence may even end up in murder.
The key elements of domestic abuse are:
- humiliating the other individual
- physical injury
Domestic abuse is not really a result of losing control; domestic abuse is intentionally trying to control another individual. The abuser is purposefully using verbal, nonverbal, or physical means to gain control over the other individual.
In many cultures, control of women by men is accepted as the norm. This article speaks from the orientation that control of intimate partners is domestic abuse within a culture where such control isn’t the norm. Today we see many cultures moving from the subordination of women to increased equality of women within relationships.
What are the kinds of domestic abuse?
The types of domestic abuse are:
- physical abuse (domestic violence)
- verbal or nonverbal abuse (psychological abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse)
- sexual abuse
- stalking or cyberstalking
- economic abuse or financial abuse
- spiritual abuse
The divisions between these types of domestic abuse are somewhat fluid, yet there is a strong differentiation between the various forms of physical abuse and the various types of verbal or nonverbal abuse.
What is physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner?
Physical abuse is the use of physical force against another person in a way that ends up injuring the individual, or puts the person at risk of being injured. Physical abuse ranges from physical restraint to murder. When a person talks of Domestic Violence, they are quite often referring to physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner.
Physical assault or physical battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside a family or outside of the family. The authorities are empowered to protect you from physical attack.
Physical abuse involves:
- pushing, throwing, kicking
- slapping, grabbing, hitting, punching, beating, tripping, battering, bruising, choking, shaking
- pinching, biting
- holding, restraining, confinement
- breaking bones
- assault with a firearm including a knife or gun
What is emotional abuse or verbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner?
Mental, psychological, or emotional abuse may be verbal or nonverbal. Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner consists of more subtle actions or behaviors than physical abuse. While physical abuse might seem worse, the scars of verbal and emotional abuse are deep. Studies show that verbal or nonverbal abuse might be much more emotionally detrimental than physical abuse.
Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner may include:
- threatening or intimidating to obtain compliance
- destruction of the victim’s personal property and assets and possessions, or threats to accomplish this
- violence to an object (such as a wall or piece of furniture) or pet, in the presence of the intended victim, as a way of instilling fear of additional violence
- yelling or screaming
- constant harassment
- embarrassing, making fun of, or mocking the victim, either on your own within the household, in public, or in front of family or friends
- criticizing or diminishing the victim’s accomplishments or goals
- not trusting the victim’s decision-making
- telling the victim that they are worthless on their own, without the abuser
- excessive possessiveness, isolation from friends and family
- excessive checking-up on the victim to make certain they are at home or where they said they would be
- saying hurtful things while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and using the substance as an excuse to say the hurtful things
- blaming the victim for how the abuser acts or feels
- making the victim remain on the premises subsequent to a fight, or leaving them somewhere else subsequent to a fight, just to “teach them a lesson”
- making the victim feel that there isn’t any way out of the relationship
What is sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a spouse or intimate partner?
Sexual abuse involves:
- sexual assault: forcing someone to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity
- sexual harassment: ridiculing another individual to try to limit their sexuality or reproductive choices
- sexual exploitation (most notably forcing someone to look at pornography, or forcing someone to participate in pornographic film-making)
Sexual abuse quite often is linked to physical abuse; they may occur together, or the sexual abuse could very well occur following a bout of physical abuse.
What is stalking?
Stalking is harassment of or threatening another person, especially in a way that haunts the person physically or emotionally in a repetitive and devious manner. Stalking of an intimate partner can take place during the relationship, with intense monitoring of the partner’s activities. Or stalking can take place after a partner or spouse has left the relationship. The stalker may possibly be trying to get their partner back, or some may wish to harm their partner as punishment for their departure. Irrespective of the fine details, the victim fears for their safety.
Stalking can take place at or near the victim’s home, near or in their workplace, on the way to the store or another destination, or on the Internet (cyberstalking). Stalking can be on the phone, in person, or on the web. Stalkers may possibly never show their face, or they can be everywhere, in person.
Stalkers employ a number of threatening techniques:
- repeated phone calls, sometimes with hang-ups
- following, tracking (possibly even with a global positioning device)
- finding the person through public records, online searching, or paid investigators
- watching with hidden cameras
- suddenly showing up where the victim is, at home, school, or work
- sending emails; communicating in chat rooms or with instant messaging (cyberstalking: see below)
- sending unwanted packages, cards, gifts, or letters
- monitoring the victim’s phone calls or computer-use
- contacting the victim’s pals, family, co-workers, or neighbors to find out about the victim
- going through the victim’s garbage
- threatening to injure the victim or their family, buddies, or pets
- damaging the victim’s home, car, or various other property
Stalking is unpredictable and should always be regarded as dangerous. If someone is
- tracking you,
- contacting you when you do not wish to have speak to,
- attempting to control you, or
- frightening you,
then seek assistance as soon as possible.
What is cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is the use of telecommunication technologies most notably the Internet or email to stalk another individual. Cyberstalking may be an additional form of stalking, or it may very well be the only method the abuser employs. Cyberstalking is deliberate, persistent, and personal.
Spamming with unsolicited email is different from cyberstalking. Spam doesn’t necessarily focus on the individual, along with cyberstalking. The cyberstalker methodically finds and contacts the victim. Much like spam of a sexual nature, a cyberstalker’s message may be disturbing and inappropriate. Also like spam, you can never stop the contact with a request. In fact, the more you protest or respond, the more rewarded the cyberstalker feels. The very best response to cyberstalking is not to respond to the contact.
Cyberstalking falls in a grey area of the law. Enforcement of most federal and state stalking laws requires that the victim be directly threatened with an act of violence. Very few law enforcement agencies can act if the threat is only implied.
Regardless of whether or not you can get stalking laws enforced against cyberstalking, you must treat cyberstalking seriously and protect yourself. Cyberstalking sometimes advances to actual stalking and to physical violence.
How likely is it that stalking will turn into violence?
Stalking can end in violence whether or not the stalker threatens violence. And stalking can turn into violence even if the stalker does not have any history of violence.
Women stalkers are just as likely to become violent as are male stalkers.
Those around the stalking victim are also in danger of being injured. For example, a parent, spouse, or bodyguard who makes the stalking victim unattainable could possibly be hurt or killed as the stalker pursues the stalking victim.
What is economic or financial abuse of a spouse or domestic partner?
Economic or financial abuse involves:
- withholding economic resources most notably cash or credit cards
- stealing from or defrauding a partner of cash or assets
- exploiting the intimate partner’s resources for personal gain
- withholding physical resources most notably food, clothes, necessary medications, or shelter from a partner
- preventing the spouse or intimate partner from working or choosing an occupation
What is spiritual abuse of a spouse or intimate partner?
Spiritual abuse involves:
- using the spouse’s or intimate partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate them
- preventing the partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
- ridiculing the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
- forcing the children to be reared in a faith that the partner has not agreed to
How do I realize if I am in an abusive relationship? What are the signs and symptoms of an abusive relationship?
The more of the following questions that you answer Yes to, the more likely you are in an abusive relationship. Examine your answers and seek assistance should you find that you respond positively to a large number of the questions.
Your inner feelings and dialogue: Fear, self-loathing, numbness, desperation
- Are you fearful of your partner a large percentage of the time?
- Do you avoid certain topics or spend a lot of time figuring out how to talk about certain topics so that you do not arouse your partner’s negative reaction or anger?
- Do you ever feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
- Do you ever feel so badly about yourself that you think you deserve to be physically hurt?
- Have you lost the love and respect that you once had for your partner?
- Do you in some instances wonder if you are the one who is crazy, that maybe you are overreacting to your partner’s behaviors?
- Do you in some instances fantasize about ways to kill your partner to get them out of your life?
- Are you afraid that your partner will likely try to kill you?
- Are you afraid that your partner will try to take your children away from you?
- Do you feel that there is nowhere to turn for assistance?
- Are you feeling emotionally numb?
- Were you abused as a child, or did you grow up with Domestic Violence in the household? Does domestic violence seem normal to you?
Your partner’s lack of control over their own behavior
- Does your partner have low self-esteem? Do they appear to feel powerless, ineffective, or inadequate within the world, although they are outwardly successful?
- Does your partner externalize the causes of their own behavior? Do they blame their violence on stress, alcohol, or a “bad day”?
- Is your partner unpredictable?
- Is your partner a pleasant individual between bouts of violence?
Your partner’s violent or threatening behavior
- Does your partner have a bad temper?
- Has your partner ever threatened to injure you or kill you?
- Has your partner ever physically injure you?
- Has your partner threatened to take your children away from you, especially if you try to leave the relationship?
- Has your partner ever threatened to commit suicide, especially as a way of keeping you from leaving?
- Has your partner ever forced you to have sex when you didn’t want to?
- Has your partner threatened you at work, either in individual or on the phone?
- Is your partner cruel to animals?
- Does your partner destroy your belongings or household objects?
Your partner’s controlling behavior
- Does your partner try to keep you from seeing your buddies or family?
- Are you embarrassed to invite close friends or family over to your house mainly because of your partner’s behavior?
- Has your partner limited your access to money, the telephone, or the car?
- Does your partner try to stop you from going where you need to go outside of the house, or from doing what you want to do?
- Is your partner jealous and possessive, asking where you are going and where you have been, as if checking up on you? Do they accuse you of having an affair?
Your partner’s diminishment of you
- Does your partner verbally abuse you?
- Does your partner humiliate or criticize you in front of others?
- Does your partner quite often ignore you or put down your opinions or contributions?
- Does your partner always insist that they are right, even if they are obviously wrong?
- Does your partner blame you for their own violent behavior, saying that your behavior or attitudes cause them to be violent?
- Is your partner often outwardly angry with you?
- Does your partner objectify and disrespect those of your gender? Does your partner see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
In my workplace, what are the warning signs that an individual is a victim of Family Violence?
Domestic Violence often plays out in the workplace. For example, a husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend might make threatening phone calls to their intimate partner or ex-partner. Or the worker could very well show injuries from physical abuse at home.
In the event you witness a cluster of the following warning signs within the workplace, you can reasonably suspect domestic abuse:
- Bruises together with other signs of impact on the skin, with the excuse of “accidents”
- Depression, crying
- Frequent and sudden absences
- Frequent lateness
- Frequent, harassing phone calls to the person while they are at work
- Fear of the partner, references to the partner’s anger
- Decreased productivity and attentiveness
- Isolation from pals and family
- Insufficient resources to live (cash, credit cards, car)
If you do recognize signs of domestic abuse in a co-worker, talk to your Human Resources department. The Human Resources staff will be able to assist the victim without having your additional involvement.
Who abuses their spouse or intimate partner?
Domestic abuse knows no age or ethnic boundaries.
Domestic abuse can occur during a relationship or after a relationship has ended.
The majority of psychological, medical, and legal specialists agree that the vast majority of physical abusers are men. Nonetheless , women can also be the perpetrators of Domestic Violence.
Virtually all stalkers are also men stalking women. Nevertheless stalkers can also be women stalking men, men stalking men, or women stalking women.
Austin Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
As the justice system has come to recognize the social and legal effects of domestic violence, the penalties for conviction of domestic assault have become steeper. This is why it is so important to consult an expert lawyer who is familiar with your local court system. Seek the counsel of a highly qualified Austin Domestic Violence Lawyer from the Charles Johnson Law Firm in Austin, Texas to learn more about what you can do to assert and protect your rights.
Austin Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Call us at 512-832-1200 or toll free at 877-308-0100.
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, domestic abuse
, Domestic Violence
, emotional abuse
, Family Violence
, intimate partner
, physical abuse
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