Recently, a legislative aide in New York was charged in court with attempted enticement of a minor. He had been texting and messaging through a dating app with someone who claimed to be a 14-year-old girl. He communicated in very graphic, detailed terms with the girl and made plans to meet with her at an apartment to have sex. It turned out, though, that the girl wasn't real. He had been set up by a group of private citizens who then filmed him arriving at the apartment to meet who he thought was a 14-year-old girl. The group posted the film online, and it was turned over to law enforcement, and the legislative aide was criminally charged.
If you've ever seen the hit show To Catch a Predator on Dateline NBC, you know how this works. On the show, the production team poses as a minor online. When an adult makes contact with the profile of a minor and engages in sexual conversation, they make plans to meet. The adult shows up to meet the child and is greeted by the host of the show. At this point, there is video evidence of the adult attempting to make sexual contact with a minor. In many cases, this leads to criminal charges being filed.
Can a Person Be Charged Even if an Actual Child Isn't Involved?
The short answer is yes. An offender only has to believe that they are meeting or interacting with a minor. If the profile of the minor turns out to be an adult posing as a minor, the offender can still be charged with a crime. As the earlier case demonstrates, the adult offender doesn't have to have actual physical, sexual contact with a minor, and the person they believe they're meeting doesn't have to actually be a minor.
Vigilante groups of private citizens (or television production teams) can set up and conduct a sting operation. They then collect evidence in the form of online conversations and videos and provide it to the police, and the police can file criminal charges. Whether the person on the other end is actually a child and whether there is actual sexual contact does not matter. Simply attempting to meet a person you believe to be a minor for the purposes of sexual contact is enough to be charged with a crime.
What Should I Do if I'm Charged?
An accusation of sexual abuse against a child can be devastating for everyone involved, and it can have massive, lifelong repercussions. It is essential that you immediately seek representation. If you have been accused of child sexual abuse, you need Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team on your side to guide you through this process and protect you.