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Is Grooming Illegal in South Carolina?

Is Grooming Illegal in South Carolina?

Is “Grooming” Illegal in South Carolina?

For many defendants, facing criminal charges can take away more than their freedom; it can also erode their hard-earned reputations. This is especially true for those accused of sex crimes, as there’s a harsh stigma around sex crimes involving minors in South Carolina.

Given the rise of the internet, especially in recent years following the COVID-19 pandemic, the term “grooming” has become increasingly relevant in today’s society, making it all the more important to understand what constitutes grooming and avoid any behaviors that could lead to sex crime charges and serious jail time.

By legal definition, grooming entails forming an emotional connection or relationship with a minor for sexual purposes, such as sexual gratification, sexual exploitation, or sexual abuse. Keep reading to learn more about criminal penalties and laws against grooming in South Carolina.

What Constitutes Grooming in Sex Crimes Involving Minors?

While grooming isn’t a stand-alone crime in South Carolina, it’s still imperative to understand what constitutes grooming. This is because grooming behaviors are often involved in sex crimes involving minors. These crimes are serious offenses that carry harsh penalties if convicted, not to mention the potential to wreak havoc on your reputation, career, and personal relationships.

More often than not, grooming entails the following pattern:

  1. Targeting the minor;
  2. Securing access to the minor;
  3. Isolating the minor;
  4. Gaining the minor’s trust;
  5. Controlling the relationship; and
  6. Concealing the relationship from others.

Grooming is committed with the intent of manipulating the minor's perception of the world around them. It isn't uncommon for offenders to encourage distrust of authority figures and encourage conflict with other adults who might step in to protect or intervene on the minor's behalf, such as parents, caregivers, and teachers. Essentially, grooming can enable offenders to manipulate children's loyalty and maintain the facade that they are willing participants instead of crime victims.

Common behaviors that may be used to groom children include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Showing excessive interest in the minor
  • Creating opportunities to spend alone time with the minor
  • Offering special privileges, such as allowing minors to engage in illicit behaviors like drinking or driving underage
  • Showing favoritism toward the minor over others, such as the child’s friends or family members
  • Befriending adults in a family to gain access to the targeted minor
  • Catering to the child’s interests to initiate lasting contact
  • Assisting caregivers with childcare to gain their trust

Grooming as a Federal Offense

While grooming isn’t specifically listed in the SC Code of Laws, grooming is a crime under federal law. Under USCS § 2422, anyone who “knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual who has not attained the age of 18 years, to engage in prostitution or any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life.”

It's worth noting that physical sexual activity is not required to convict a person of grooming under federal law. To successfully convict a defendant of grooming, the prosecution must prove certain elements beyond a reasonable doubt, including:

  • The offender acted with specific intent to cause assent on part of the minor; and
  • The offender took a “substantial step” to complete the crime.

Legal Penalties for Grooming in South Carolina

Grooming is a very common part of committing sex crimes against minors. There are various offenses codified in SC Code § 16-3-655 that often involve the grooming of children, such as:

  • Indecent exposure – Indecent exposure is a serious sex crime. Typically charged as a misdemeanor, this crime is elevated to a felony offense if there were minors involved, leading to enhanced criminal penalties that may include mandatory sex offender registration.
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor – In South Carolina, sexual exploitation of a minor is a felony offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Penalties will vary based on the degree classification and any aggravating circumstances, if applicable.
  • Soliciting a minor for sex online – Under South Carolina law, it’s a crime to solicit sex from a minor, whether in person or online. This felony offense is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.
  • Criminal sexual conduct with a minor – Commonly known as child molestation and formerly known as lewd act on a minor, criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor is a felony punishable by mandatory sex offender registration and 25 years to life in prison for offenses in the first degree.
  • Creating, distributing, or possessing child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) – Formerly known as child pornography, the act of creating, distributing, or possessing child sexual abuse materials is a felony offense punishable by mandatory sex offender registration, fines, and incarceration, including 15-30 years in prison for first-time offenders facing first-degree charges.

Relentlessly Defending the Accused in Lexington, SC

At the Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, we have extensive experience representing the accused in Lexington and beyond. Since 2004, our firm has forged a longstanding reputation for delivering the highest quality of legal representation to defend our clients’ rights and restore their freedom.

For almost 10 years, our fierce criminal defense attorneys have established a winning track record in a range of criminal cases, including DUI defense, domestic violence, drug crimes, and more. Don’t risk throwing away your future by failing to seek dependable representation. Reach out to our firm to learn how we can help you avoid the life-altering penalties of a criminal conviction.

It’s imperative to seek skilled representation after being charged with a crime. Call (803) 359-3301 to schedule a free consultation


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