Lewd Acts

Lewd acts are defined as unlawful behaviors that are sexual in nature, performed with the intention of sexually arousing either the perpetrator or the person to whom the conduct is directed. Lewd acts are a crime in all jurisdictions, which may be considered misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the exact circumstances. To explore this concept, consider the following lewd acts definition.

Definition of Lewd Acts


  1. Obscene or indecent acts, characterized by, or for the purpose of becoming aroused.
  2. Sexual behaviors that are unlawful in nature and are performed with the intention of arousing the perpetrator or the person to whom the behavior is directed.


Before 900        Middle English leud, lewed

What are Lewd Acts

Lewd acts, also known as “lewd and lascivious conduct,” refers to any act that is sexual in nature, which would be considered indecent or shocking to a reasonable person. This might include the exposing of genitalia in public, also referred to as “indecent exposure,” fondling oneself in public, or participating in prostitution or public viewing of pornography, as well as urinating in public, and making sexually vulgar phone calls.

For legal purposes, a public place is defined as any place accessible to, or readily viewable by, the general public, such as stores, theaters, restaurants, parks, and roads. Places not necessarily open to the public that are considered “public places” for the purpose of charging an individual with a lewd act may include hospitals, jails, and prisons.

For example:

Martin enjoys walking around inside his home nude, and thinks it’s funny to leave his curtains open and see the shocked expressions of people walking by. Mary lives down the street, and goes jogging every morning at 7:00, and Martin has her schedule memorized. When Mary jogs by his house one day, Martin makes sure he is striking a nude pose in front of his large picture window, tapping on the glass to be sure she sees him.

Although Martin is exposing himself in his own home, not in a public place, he is doing it in a place that can be readily viewed by people passing by. This is a lewd act, and is a crime. If Martin exposes himself this way when children are walking by, it would be considered a lewd act with a minor, and would carry a more strict punishment.

Lewd and Lascivious Behavior

The legal term lewd and lascivious behavior refers to sexual behavior that does not adhere to a community’s moral standards of appropriate behavior. In modern terms, lewd is defined as indecent or obscene behavior with sexual desire, while lascivious means to express lust or other sexual desire. To be charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, it is not necessary for actual touching to have occurred. In fact, in the U.S., mailing any item that contains obscene, indecent, filthy, or vile content may be considered to be lewd and lascivious behavior.

Types of Lewd Behavior

Lewd behavior typically includes elements of sexual indulgence or lust on the part of the offender, whether the act is intended to excite the offender himself, or his victim. Lewd behavior, sometimes known as “indecent behavior,” refers to many acts, with latitude given to the court as to whether an act is lewd or indecent. In most jurisdictions, indecent exposure, peeping, and lewd phone calls are the most common types of lewd behavior.

  • Indecent Exposure. This criminal act consists of exposing one’s genitals in a public place. In most states, an individual can be charged with indecent exposure if he intentionally exposes his private parts in a lewd manner in a public area, or commits any other lewd acts in a public place, or in an area that can be readily viewed by people in a public place.
  • Peeping. Peeping occurs when a person looks through another individual’s window, or enters another person’s property for the purpose of sexual arousal, or other indecent purpose. In some states, so-called “peeping tom” laws are located under the state’s disorderly conduct laws.
  • Lewd Phone Calls. Lewd phones calls consist of calling a person on the phone to make lewd comments, or to sexually harass them for arousal purposes. Depending on the exact circumstances of the crime, making lewd phone calls may also be charged as “stalking.”

Example of Lewd Behavior

John has a fetish involving women joggers. He frequently visits the local park and sits on a bench to watch as joggers pass by. On one such visit, he decides to expose his genitals to one of the female joggers to increase his arousal. At that time, a woman races by him to catch a Frisbee and sees what he is doing. John is engaging in lewd behavior, which is a criminal act.

Penalties for Lewd Acts

Penalties for lewd acts vary depending on the jurisdiction, and the specific act committed. Because this crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending in the circumstances, penalties for lewd acts are significant, and can lead to severe legal ramifications. In general, penalties may include jail time, probation, fines, and community service. In some cases, repeat offenders can be subject a mandatory psychological treatment program, or even confinement to a mental hospital. In the event the act was committed in front of a minor, the penalty is much more severe.

Lewd Acts with a Minor

Lewd acts with a minor is a serious crime that is considered a felony offense. Lewd acts with a minor occur when an adult person engages in sexual conduct with any minor for the purpose of arousing himself or the child. Lewd acts with a minor involve more than exposure of the genitals, but fall short of completing a sexual assault of the child. To successfully charge a perpetrator with lewd acts with a minor, the prosecutor must prove that the victim meets the state’s statutory age requirement, and that sexual contact took place with the purpose of arousal.

While a charge of lewd acts with a minor is slightly less serious than actual sexual assault of a minor, the penalties are usually similar to the sexual battery conviction. In addition to any imprisonment, probation, fines, or other penalty, an individual convicted of lewd acts with a minor is required to register as a sex offender.

Cases Involving Lewd Acts with a Minor

Modern technology not only allows quick access to useful information, and instant communication between family, friends, and colleagues, but it also enables the exchange of sexually explicit messages, photos, and videos. This medium has become a magnet for sex offenders around the globe, but many children have been victimized by people they trust, who hold authoritative positions over them. The following real-life cases involving lewd acts with minors both involve the sending of sexually explicit messages and photos to minor girls, and are just a sampling of the risk children face in modern times.

Police Sergeant Messages 16-Year Old Girl

In 2012, Boston Police Sergeant, Edwin Guzman began sending sexually explicit messages to a 16-year old girl. Thirty-eight year old Guzman went as far as to send a Facebook message a nude picture of himself to the girl. It was after this decorated police officer offered to buy the teen a new phone if she would “hang out” with him, and touch him the way he wanted, that she told her mother about the messages. The mother was devastated, as Guzman had been a trusted friend of the family. Mother and daughter reported the incidents to the police. Edwin Guzman was charged with lewd conduct involving a minor in November 2014.

School Swim Coach Sends Nude Photo to 13-Year Old Student

A 13-year old member of a Marin County, California swim team began receiving sexually explicit text messages and even nude photos from her swim coach, 38-year old Jason Ward. The girl was embarrassed and afraid to report the messages, and buried her confused feelings about the incidents for more than four years before making a report to the police. Ward was charged with two felony counts of contacting a minor for lewd purposes, and sending lewd photos with the intent of seducing a minor.

Ward plead guilty, to distribution of lewd material to a minor in a plea bargain, in which the other charges were dropped. While the coach did not spend any time in prison, he is now required to register as a sex offender. This effectively ends his career as a coach with minor children.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Criminal Act – An act committed by an individual that is in violation of the law, or that poses a threat to the public.
  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony; generally those punishable by a fine, probation, community service, or imprisonment of less than one year.
  • Perpetrator – A person who commits an illegal or criminal act.
  • Sex Offender – A person convicted of a crime involving sex, including rape, molestation, and production or distribution of child pornography.
  • Victim – A person who is injured, killed, or otherwise harmed as a result of a criminal act, accident, or other event.