Parents are allowed by law to interact with and discipline their children as they see fit as long as they don’t harm the child. Others who stand in for parents (in loco parentis—teachers, childcare providers, camp counselors, etc.) also are allowed by law to interact with children physically and verbally for the sake of the children’s well-being. However, when certain physical discipline or sexually-oriented interaction limitations are violated, the state may charge you with child abuse.
Any accusation related to crimes such as child abuse or neglect is a serious matter, and it’s important to consult a child abuse defense attorney to ensure your rights are protected. Sexual child abuse allegations can include emotionally charged accusations, media coverage, and preconceived assumptions by law enforcement officers and courts – all contributing to a complicated high stakes child abuse prosecution.
Defining Child Abuse & Neglect
Commonly used interchangeably, “child abuse” and “child neglect” relate to two distinct behaviors:
- Child Abuse: The state of Nebraska defines “child abuse” as putting a child’s physical health in danger through neglect, carelessness, or purpose. Parents could be charged with child abuse if they do nothing while their child receives harsh punishments, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse.
- Child Neglect. It is a crime not to care for a child in Nebraska. Parents can be charged with child neglect if they don’t give their kids the basic amenities like food, shelter, medical care, and clothes and leave a child younger than six in a car without supervision. Sometimes, neglect occurs due to economic hardship or cultural division.
Federal and state laws define child abuse differently, including child sexual assault. Federal law sets minimum standards for states to receive prevention funding, and each state creates definitions of child abuse within state laws. Cases involving child abuse and child sexual assault usually are handled in state criminal, juvenile, and civil courts unless they occur across state lines.
Federal Child Abuse Laws
The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010) defines child abuse as:
- 1) “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical, emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation“; or
- 2) “An act or failure to act presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” The law applies to criminal actions against minors (younger than 18 and not emancipated).
The U.S. Department of Justice shares more information on federal law and child sexual abuse with their Citizens Guide to U.S. Law on Child Sexual Abuse. Child sexual abuse, sex trafficking of minors, and child pornography are primarily governed by federal laws titled Sexual Exploitation of Children (Production of Pornography) and the Selling and Buying of Children, among other related laws.
For more information about federal law related to child pornography, see the U.S. Department of Justice’s Citizens Guide to U.S. Law on Child Pornography.
Nebraska Child Abuse Laws
In Nebraska, child abuse is defined by a series of Nebraska Revised Statutes governing different crimes, including child sexual abuse.
- Physical abuse: “Child abuse or neglect means knowingly, intentionally, or negligently causing, or permitting a minor child to be placed in a situation that endangers their life or physical health or causes or permits a child to be cruelly confined or cruelly punished.”
- Neglect: “‘Child abuse or neglect’ means knowingly, intentionally, or negligently causing or permitting a minor child to be deprived of necessary food, clothing, shelter, or care or causing or permitting a child age 6 or younger to be left unattended in a motor vehicle.”
- Emotional abuse: “Child abuse or neglect includes knowingly, intentionally, or negligently causing or permitting a minor child to be placed in a situation that endangers his or her mental health.”
- Abandonment: “When a person abandons and neglects to provide for his or her child or dependent stepchild for 3 consecutive months or more, it shall be prima facie evidence of intent to commit abandonment of a child or dependent stepchild.”
- Sexual abuse/exploitation: “Child abuse or neglect includes knowingly, intentionally, or negligently causing or permitting a minor child to be sexually abused or sexually exploited by allowing, encouraging, or forcing the child to solicit for or engage in prostitution, debauchery, public indecency, or obscene or pornographic photography, films, or depictions.”
It is possible to be charged with more than one of these crimes under Nebraska’s child abuse and child sex assault statutes. Other laws require mandatory reporting by anyone who has cause to believe a child has been subjected to child abuse or neglect, with a special law requiring a report when anyone is responsible for the abuse or neglect of a child.
Those found guilty of a child abuse-related crime have their names recorded in the Child Abuse Central Register, a database of child abuse cases that employers may review in certain occupations before hiring an employee. In some cases the state will put citizens on the Child Abuse Central Register without a criminal conviction. Thus even without a criminal conviction, the state could put your name on a list of known child abusers.
Child Sexual Abuse in Nebraska
Child sexual assault is a form of child abuse that generally refers to sexual acts with a child. In contrast, “sexual exploitation” refers to victimizing a child by exploiting them for prostitution or trafficking.
“Sexual grooming” or “child solicitation” refer to manipulating a child to make it more likely they will accept sexual advances – this often happens in a digital environment, online conversations. Child sexual abuse is also called child molestation, and when the molestation comes from a family member, it is referred to as incest.
Children Cannot Consent
Both Nebraska and federal laws state that children are not capable of consenting to sexual activity with an adult, regardless of the child’s intent or actions. The American Psychological Association has cited many studies supporting a child’s inability to consent and formally condemning any sexual activity with a child by an adult.
The issue of consent may arise when an older minor under the age of 16 gives verbal consent to a person who assumes the teenager is of the age to consent. Adults are expected to know the law does not recognize this kind of consent. Sexual activity with an older child can still result in charges of “statutory rape” charges. For example, a 19 year old man may meet a girl claiming to be 18 years old, who is really 15 years old. Under Nebraska law, the 19 year old is guilty of sex assault even though he truly believed his partner was of age.
In general, Nebraska statutes governing child abuse are included in Chapter 28 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes, which governs crimes involving using electronic devices to solicit minors for any sex-related activity. Child pornography is governed, in part, by Nebraska statute 28-813.01.
Penalties for Child Abuse and Neglect in Nebraska
Juvenile and adult criminal courts may seek punishment for child abuse and neglect. Whether or not the parent behaved carelessly or intentionally and whether or not the kid suffered physical damage or death are all factors in determining whether or not a case of child abuse or neglect should be treated as a misdemeanor or crime.
- Class I: Careless acts by parents against children are punishable as Class I misdemeanors.
- Class IB: It is a felony to cause death through maltreatment of a child intentionally or recklessly.
- Class IIA: Abuse of a child that results in death is a Class IIA felony. If the child sustains physical harm directly from cruel treatment, the perpetrator will have committed a Class II felony.
- Class III: Abusing a child is a felony if done knowingly and with purpose.
- Class IIIA: If a parent intentionally and deliberately abuses their child, but the child does not suffer significant physical damage or death, the parent has committed a Class IIIA felony. If the child is injured due to criminal negligence, it is a Class IIIA felony.
- Class IV: Abusive behavior towards a child that doesn’t result in bodily injury is still a crime.
In the case of a parent’s conviction for a major crime, the possible outcomes are devastating and may even include prison time.
Defense of Sexual Assault Accusations
Defense against child abuse accusations can be difficult, partly because the media may make negative assumptions about an accused person before a trial. The testimony of a child can make defense difficult. As a society we vigilantly protect our children. For this reason police and prosecutors often pursue child sexual abuse case even when the evidence is scant or contains contradictions.
Reasons to Defend Yourself from Accusations
Because of the inflammatory nature of child abuse, including child sexual assault and child pornography, it is important to strongly counter allegations and provide clear proof that the charges are unfounded.
Even accusations with no conviction can result in damaging consequences, such as losing a job, and irreparable reputational damage. Further, an accusation can end personal relationships and cause embarrassment even when the accused is innocent.
A Lawyer Can Determine How to Fight Accusations
Defenses against child abuse involving sexual assault include casting doubt on the prosecutor’s case, proving harm to a child was an accident or proving an accusation is false, as in a recent case defended by Berry Law attorney and practice owner, John S. Berry.
Defenses can also prove that any harm done was the result of something other than child abuse. For example, an adult may have removed their article of clothing for an innocent reason near a child, but someone else may have seen them, assumed there was a sexual motive, and reported it as a crime.
Defenses for Child Abuse and Neglect in Nebraska
A parent who is accused of abusing or neglecting their child might perhaps use any of the following defenses, depending on the particulars of the case:
- Fabricated evidence
- Affirmed Right to Discipline
- Deficit of evidence
- Insufficient evidence to establish a causal relationship (the child’s damage resulted from a different factor)
- False memories
Contact our child abuse lawyers in Nebraska to discuss your case and possible defenses.
Consult Berry Law for Legal Representation in Child Abuse Case
Remember, an accused person has the right to remain silent and consult an attorney who is an expert in this type of case, as well as the right to a fair trial. If you or someone you know is facing allegations of child abuse, child sexual assault, or child pornography, you may want to call an experienced child abuse attorney, such as at Berry Law.