It is a Crime to Travel Outside the U.S. for Illegal Sexual Activity
United States federal law provides “extraterritorial jurisdiction” over certain sex offenses against children (anyone under the age of 18). Extraterritorial jurisdiction is the legal authority of the United States to prosecute criminal conduct that took place outside of its borders.
For example, U.S. law prohibits U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents from traveling from the United States to a foreign country and, while in the foreign country, raping or sexually molesting a child or paying a child for sex. See 18 U.S.C. 2423(c).
Citizens can be punished under this law even if the conduct they engaged in was legal in the country where it occurred. For example, if an individual traveled to a country that had legalized prostitution—and while they were there they paid a child for sex—that individual could still be convicted of a crime under this statute. And the penalty for a violation of this provision is up to 30 years in prison.
Similarly, another section of this federal statute makes it a crime for a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to travel from the United States to a foreign country with the intent to engage in illegal sexual conduct with a child, such as rape, molestation, or prostitution. See 18 U.S.C. 2423(b).
The difference between 18 U.S.C. 2423(b) and 18 U.S.C. 2423(c) is that Section 2423(b) requires proof that the defendant had formed the criminal intent at the time of the travel. The penalty for this criminal offense is also up to 30 years in prison.
And another section of this federal statute—18 U.S.C. 2423(d)—makes it a crime to be what is informally known as a child sex tour operator. Specifically, this statute makes it a criminal offense to profit by facilitating the travel of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, knowing that they are traveling for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex with a minor. The penalty for this criminal offense is also up to 30 years in prison.
It is a Crime to Travel Outside the U.S. to Produce Child Pornography
There are also child pornography laws that apply to conduct outside the United States. For example, it is a crime for anyone to produce child pornography in foreign countries if they import the child abuse images into the United States—or if they intend to do so. See 18 U.S.C. 2251(c); 18 U.S.C. 2260. The penalty for a first-time offender under these statutes is at least 15 years and up to 30 years in prison.
It is a Federal Crime to Commit Sex Trafficking Crimes Against Children Outside the U.S.
Under U.S. law, federal prosecutors can investigate and prosecute foreign nationals (non-U.S. citizens) who commit sex trafficking crimes against children outside the United States. See 18 U.S.C. §1591.
Federal prosecutors can also investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents who commit child sex trafficking crimes outside the United States. See 18 U.S.C. §1596.