Texas enjoys a number of Spring Break hot spots like Corpus Christi and South Padre Island. These locales are easy to reach for those in or near South Texas. They offer an opportunity to party — for all ages.
It is generally assumed that spring break partying is for college students; that anyone in attendance at the parties will be a legal adult. But that is not always the case. High school students often attend these parties, meaning underage girls and boys will be present.
Engaging in any level of sexual relationship with an underage person can (and will) be taken very seriously by both law enforcement and the court of public opinion.
Take musician Ryan Adams — remember when he was accused of championing and then sexually exploiting female artists? That allegation alone led to the cancellation of his tour.
He is now under investigation by the FBI, allegedly because he had phone sex and exchanged sexually explicit images with an underage girl. He could now face federal child pornography charges.
So before you set off on your week at the beach, let’s talk age of consent in Texas, particularly some of the charges you could face for engaging in elicit sexual activity with someone underage.
Statutory Rape: Why Underage Sex in Texas Is Non-Consensual
The age of consent in Texas is 17. This means engaging in sexual activity with anyone under that age is illegal.
Even when the sexual activity in question is consensual, anyone under the age of consent is not considered capable of giving informed consent. Therefore, from a legal standpoint, this is non-consensual sexual contact — or statutory rape.
Law enforcement may make an exception if the defendant is no more than three years older than the underage party, but it really depends upon the circumstances surrounding the case.
Three Charges Related to Statutory Rape
Three charges can result from statutory rape in Texas:
- Aggravated sexual assault: Sexual penetration (however slight) of a minor under 14 by a defendant of any age. This is a first-degree felony punishable by 5-99 years in prison and required sex offender registration.
- Sexual assault: Sexual penetration of a minor under 17 by a defendant over three years older than the minor. This is a second-degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison.
- Indecency with a child: Sexual touching (including over clothing) of a minor under 17 by a defendant over three years older than the minor. This is a second-degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison.
So what happens when there is no physical contact involving an underage person? Why am I still facing criminal charges?
When Sexting Becomes Child Pornography in Texas
Sexting is increasingly popular in relationships among people of all ages, including minors. However, if you’re an adult and you engage in sexting with a minor under the age of 18, any explicit images of that minor are considered child pornography.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Depending on the circumstances of the offense, you could face the following charges and penalties:
- Sexual performance by a child: Authorizing a child to engage in sexual performance, for example by encouraging the minor to send a nude selfie. If the minor is under 14, this is a second-degree felony. If the minor is 14-17, this is a third-degree felony.
- Possession of child pornography: This is a third-degree felony. If you distribute the image, for example by forwarding it to a friend, this is a second-degree felony.
If the offense involves sending the images in question over state borders (for example, sexting with a minor from Louisiana), that would be a federal charge. Federal child pornography charges are punishable by time in federal prisons and sex offender treatment programs.
In short, you should always be absolutely certain that any sexual partners are over the age of consent. Even if a minor is completely on board with sexual activity, you could face serious legal repercussions and permanent damage to your company.