While all sex crimes carry a stigma, Texas, like many other states, has particularly reevaluated rape as an assaultive or violent offense, rather than just a sexual one. What is referred to as “statutory rape” or “sex with a minor” in other states is tantamount to sexual assault against a child under Texas law. As such, the act of an adult engaging in sexual conduct with a child is illegalized by the statutes regarding sexual assault.
The notion of statutory rape entails that if sexual conduct, however consensual, involves two parties that are of differing age categories under the law, then that sexual contact is illegal. The basis for such a concept lies in the societal aim of inhibiting children from sexual activity until they reach a certain age (and maturity level, really). As explained in the Relevant Ages section, it is illegal for any child under 14 to engage in sexual contact, and any individual younger than 17 is considered a child for legal purposes.
Previous knowledge of a party’s status as underage is not required by law to charge someone with sexual assault to a child. The physical, intellectual, or sexual maturity of an individual doesn’t necessitate that they are of age. It has often been the case that a young person becomes involved with someone younger than themselves, unaware of the potential dangers if one of them is under 17 and their age difference is more than 3 years. Moreover, it is not unheard of for an individual to lie about his or her age.
The three year age gap is particularly geared towards relationships between young, and still maturing, adults. Unfortunately, even seniors in high school can be charged with sexual assault to a child for engaging in sexual conduct with their peers. With the three year age difference, the Texas Penal Code generally establishes a relationship between a high school senior and a high school freshman as criminal conduct. Moreover, for a college student to continue a legal relationship with a high school student, he or she must be under the age of 21. It may be alright for a college freshman to date a high school senior, but any other romantic combination between a college student and a high schooler can undoubtedly result in a sexual assault to a child charge.
While it may be hard to believe such cases are actually prosecuted, it is important to understand that the police are often called in a number of particular situations.
Below are several common scenarios:
- “Romeo & Juliet”—the families of the romantically involved teenagers dislike one another for whatever reason, and one contacts law enforcement.
- “Innocent Daughter/Son”—the family believes the older individual their child is involved with is exploiting their child’s romantic naivety.
- “Break-up Aftermath”—the family ignores the difference in age until their child is heartbroken, then things change.
- “Somebody’s Pregnant”—the family learns that somebody is pregnant as a result of their child’s sexual conduct.
Further, if one party gets arrested on another charge (e.g. curfew violation or possession of marijuana), the police have a legal obligation to investigate. If they happen to discover a sexual relationship prohibited by law, they will make an arrest. –On a significantly related note, there’s growing concern that a gender bias exists regarding which cases are actually prosecuted: boy defendants outnumber girls.
If convicted of a sexual assault to a child charge, you are required by law to register as a lifetime sex offender. This may be the most detrimental consequence to the charge, as it affects nearly every aspect of a person’s life (where they live, what resources are available to them, what job they can get, etc). While it is possible to avoid registration, there is no guarantee. That said, hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer to argue your case is imperative. Contact Paul Doyle now if you or someone you know is facing this charge.