Lewd as an offense- What does it mean?

what does lewd mean

Meaning of lewd

The word “lewd” means something that is sexually promiscuous or lustful. Synonyms of lewd are vulgar, indecent, obscene, and lascivious.

Lewd means a sexual act that offends community standards of decency. It is a sexual crime that often involves a child where physical penetration is unnecessary and is a felony offense.

Penalties for convictions can be severe and often depend on the victim’s age. Conviction necessitates registering as a sex offender.

Examples of lewd acts

1. Prostitution

Prostitution is lewd behavior, a sexual act performed, offered, or accepted in exchange for money or other goods. Typically, prostitution is a misdemeanor crime for both prostitute and the client.

2. Indecent exposure

Indecent exposure is a form of lewd behavior. Indecent exposure ranges from something as small as naked tanning or urinating in public to a more disturbing action. While the first act of indecent exposure is just a misdemeanour, any subsequent accusations will be considered felony. Such felony has a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

3. Child pornography

Possession or distribution of child pornography is considered a lewd act. Consequences include mandatory sex offender registration and incarceration.

4. Child molestation

Child molestation is a serious crime that is lewd behavior. Child molestation refers to the sexual abuse of a child under the age of 18. The act is considered a criminal offense and comes with severe penalties, including lengthy prison terms, lifetime sex offender registration, a tarnished reputation, and more.

What kind of behavior does “lewd” conduct include?

“Lewd” refers to an action that promotes offensive sexual desire. Since it is a repulsive sexual desire, the conduct often includes a child. It is offensive because children are too young to consent to or understand sex. This kind of behavior can also cause psychological trauma in children.

Behavior that is often considered lewd includes:-

  • Indecent exposure of genitalia, 
  • Groping, 
  • Touching another person sexually, or 
  • Persuading or forcing others to touch each other sexually

The sexual contact must be intentional or willful to constitute lewd molestation, and it cannot be random. The behavior has to arouse sexual desire.

For example, David induces a ten-year-old girl to go with him by giving her chocolate, and then, once they get alone, he starts touching her private parts.

Is penetration required for conduct to be lewd?

Sexual conduct need not include penetration for the act to be considered lewd.

Physical penetration turns lewd behavior into a more grave crime, such as rape or sexual assault. Sexual practices with a child that involves penetration are dealt with more severely.

Laws imposed by the state regarding lewd acts with minors

The state imposes several laws regarding sexual acts with minors. The following laws apply when it comes to lewd behavior with a minor:
Child luring  

This crime occurs when a person induces a child to enter any vehicle, building, room, or secluded place to commit sexual assault, lewd and lascivious behavior, or other crimes. Child luring is a Class D felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Genital exposure to a child

This crime is essentially lewd and lascivious conduct involving children, a Class I felony punishable by 3.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Charge and arrest procedure for lewd conduct

If you get detained for public lewdness, you may be issued an appearance ticket (DAT). A DAT is a warrant to appear in criminal court. This ticket means that you get levied with public lewdness. It will also tell you the day, time, and place you must appear in court to hear the charge. At the discretion of the arresting officer, DATs get issued if there is a violation or misdemeanor, and in some cases, Class E felonies.
If you get a DAT, you can avoid being held at Central Booking while you wait for your arraignment hearing or indictment. If you get levied with a heinous sex crime, more chances are you will not be assigned a DAT, and you will end up in Central Booking until processed.

At your arraignment, your prosecutor will inform you of the crimes charged against you. Between the time of arrest and arraignment, the prosecutor will review the evidence in the case and criminal history and then decide whether the defendant needs to get charged with additional or other crimes.

The prosecutor will also recommend bail to the judge. A judge can set a dollar amount for bail, release the convict on his recognizance, or require him to get held without bail.

You will get the next court date. You are required to appear at every court appearance. The judge can also issue a warrant for your arrest if you don’t appear.

Defenses against the lewd charge

Individuals charged with public lewdness commonly raise several defenses. Some common defenses are:

  1. Lack of sexual motivation

A person could expose a private part without any sexual motive. For example, a person might urinate in a public place without the intent to arouse sexual desire, and such an action would not constitute lewdness in many states.

  1. The law is vague

The United States Constitution requires that criminal law should adequately describe the prohibited act. If the law does not define the prohibited activity clearly, the judge may strike the entire rule as unconstitutional. 

  1. The marriage of the parties

In states that criminalize lewd behavior by unmarried individuals, proof of marriage constitutes a defense to the charge. 


Lewd conduct charges are associated with different kinds of obscene acts like sexually indecent or inappropriate behavior in public. The lewd act covers a range of offensive and objectionable behaviors and situations, and it is sexually motivated or explicit in other ways and occurs in public places. Obscene or indecent behavior charges are usually a misdemeanor, which means you can spend up to 12 months in jail if convicted. However, not all cases are equal; you may face additional charges related to the incident.


What is a Willful act?

Any touching is willful if the act is done willingly or on purpose. So as long as the accused intended the action, the accused is criminally liable for lewd conduct. The touching that was accidental or unintentional is not willful.

Is consent a defense to a lewd act?

Consent is not a valid defense if the victim is a minor. Even if a child or minor gives consent, the law will not consider it a defense.

Do different states define lewd behaviors differently?

Yes, each state has its definition of lewd conduct, and most states handle crime in similar manners. However, there might be some discrepancies in the details.

What are some legal defenses to the lewd act?

Some common defenses include accidental touch, contact with no sexually arousing intent, the child blaming the wrong person, the accused lying or mistaken, entrapping, marriage, and consent (not in the case of a minor).