Child molestation is a very serious sex crime that can expose a defendant to extended jail time and a lifetime of stigma. The Department of Justice defines child molestation as contacts or interactions such as inappropriate physical contact between a child and adult where the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator. Allegations of child molestation are taken very seriously by law enforcement, but they must also be treated carefully, since the justice system must aim to balance the protection of children with the vindication of those who are wrongly accused.
Understanding Child Molestation Charges
Child molestation refers to a wide variety of activities perpetrated against children by adults that have sexual undertones. While sexual activity clearly falls within the scope of child molestation, the crime also applies to other forms of inappropriate touching, including non-penetrating contact, exposure of a minor to pornography, or convincing a minor to view sexual acts. When the minor is the instrument of the perpetrator for purposes of sexual gratification or stimulation, the actions may rise to the level of molestation.
Certain professionals have a legal obligation to report suspected child molestation.
Allegations of child molestation may be reported by the child, or they may arise in a mandatory reporting context. In many states, certain professionals are legally obligated to report suspicions of child molestation to law enforcement. These include social workers, teachers, clergy, and medical professionals, amongst others. Suspicions of child molestation may arise when a child reports abuse or when the child exhibits symptoms suggesting abuse, such as increased emotional outbursts, physical bruises, or a significant change in personality. Mandatory reporting is required even when an eventual investigation determines that the allegations or suspicions are unfounded.
Defending Against Child Molestation Allegations
Although it is our obligation as a society to take child molestation charges very seriously, false reporting of child molestation is more common than many people realize. In the context of family disputes, contentious custody battles, and emotional or psychological disorders among children, false allegations of molestation by a child can occur. In this context, the best defense is to establish the falsity of the charges. This is easiest to do if a defendant can show that he or she could not have committed the alleged molestation, such as by showing that he or she was not alone with the child at the time alleged. Alternatively, the defendant may attempt to show that the child has a motive to bring false charges or has a history of doing so. However, attacking the character of a child can be a risky endeavor, since this approach can come across as too aggressive.
Because of the gravity of the offense, many states allow prosecutors to introduce evidence of the defendant’s previous acts of child molestation, even though evidence of prior bad acts for propensity purposes is usually inadmissible under other circumstances.
Alternatively, if you have been accused of child molestation and believe that criminal acts have occurred against the victim, but you did not commit them, another possible defense is to establish who the real perpetrator was. Due to the emotionally traumatic nature of child molestation, children may have altered or repressed memories about their experiences that prevent them from accurately remembering what has occurred. With the help of a trained psychologist and expert witnesses, a defendant may be able to shed light on the true perpetrator to a crime, or at least establish enough doubt about his or her own guilt that a prosecutor cannot show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.