The age of consent is the age at which someone is believed to be legally able and competent enough to consent to any form of sexual activity. Each state has its own age of consent, although no state is permitted to set the minimum age below 16 or above 18. Additionally, no two neighboring states are guaranteed to have the same ages of consent. When pursuing justice in the form of a civil lawsuit after suffering sexual abuse, it’s important for victims to understand how their state’s laws apply to the situation. The age of consent in Texas is 17, which is just below the highest allowable age in the United States.
At Reich & Binstock, our nationally-recognized sexual abuse lawyers have extensive experience fighting for the rights of victims and their families after sexual abuse occurs. Many people are not informed of their ability to file a civil lawsuit for damages when they are victimized by a sex crime. Our law firm is here to help evaluate your claim, file a lawsuit, and seek justice for the losses you suffered as a result of this traumatic experience. To schedule a consultation and speak with an experienced attorney, please call our Houston office at 713-622-7271 today.
What Is the Legal Age of Consent in Texas?
The legal age of consent in Texas is 17 years old. Even a difference in age of just a few months can result in a sex crime charge if one party is under the age of consent. Texas law applies to everyone equally in this regard, no matter the gender or sexual orientation of the parties involved. The law clearly states that consensual sex does not occur until a person turns 17.
In Texas, someone under the age of 17 cannot legally consent to any kind of sexual contact, sexual conduct, or sexual act. Even if consent is given by both parties prior to sexual relations, consensual sex can still be considered statutory rape if one of the parties is not a minor.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that Person A is 17 years old. Person B is 16 years old. If the two parties engage in sexual intercourse before Person B’s 17th birthday, this could result in a charge of indecency with a child. It is not possible for any sexual acts between the two to be considered consensual, as Person B is too young to legally consent to anything. Indecency with a child is considered a second-degree felony in Texas, and it carries a penalty of 2 to 20 years in prison.
The penalties increase significantly if the minor in question is under the age of 14. Under Texas law, having sexual intercourse with someone younger than 14 is considered aggravated sexual assault. This is a first-degree felony, and the punishment is anywhere from 5 years to life in prison.
Age of Consent Outside Texas
The states bordering Texas are Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. It’s important to understand the age of consent in each state, as the variation can make all the difference in a criminal or civil case. Below, we outline the age at which someone can legally consent to a sexual relationship in the states bordering Texas.
- Arkansas: 16 years old
- Louisiana: 17 years old
- New Mexico: 16 years old
- Oklahoma: 16 years old
As we stated before, these laws apply to all cases equally, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. No matter whether the individuals involved were of the same or opposite sex, the legal age of consent still applies.
Why Is There a Legal Age of Consent?
The purpose of having a legal age of consent in Texas is to protect minors and adolescents from suffering from sexual crimes such as abuse or assault. Additionally, many studies have shown that early sexual activity can have significant negative consequences when it comes to the rights and development of a child younger than the age of consent.
Consent laws exist primarily to protect teenagers and younger children, but they also exist to protect against certain risks to their reproductive and sexual health. Engaging in underage sexual activity can lead to early pregnancy, unwanted pregnancy, and even sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). When statutory rape, sexual assault, or any other sex crimes occur to minors, the consequences go far beyond criminal charges.
Young adults and children often see lasting mental and emotional consequences and problems after being the victims of sex crimes. This is why consent law is so incredibly important, as are the laws that protect against sexual assault.
Statutes Governing Texas’s Age of Consent
Although the age of consent varies from state to state, they each clearly outline the age of sexual consent. The Texas Penal Code (TPC) establishes Texas’s age of consent at 17. However, other laws and statutes enforce this rule in more specific ways. Below, we outline the two most important parts of the TPC when it comes to the age of consent in Texas.
- Texas Penal Code Section 21.11: This section specifically prohibits any sexual conduct with a child younger than 17 in Texas. It also states that a person commits a criminal offense if they engage in any form of sexual contact with a minor.
- Texas Penal Code Section 22.011: This section clearly defines sexual assault of a minor. A minor is anyone under the age of 17 in Texas.
What Is the Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas?
The Romeo and Juliet Law allows those between the ages of 14 and 17 to engage in consensual sexual contact with someone who is no more than 3 years older than them. Therefore, someone who is 17 can engage in sexual intercourse with someone who is 14 without facing criminal charges or being listed on the sex offender registry.
What Are the Penalties for Violating Age of Consent Laws in Texas?
As with most criminal charges involving children, serious legal issues will arise for anyone accused of committing sexual offenses against minors. Texas law has five main charges when it comes to sexual activity with a child.
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child
- Indecency with a child
- Statutory rape
- Prohibited sexual conduct
We’ll explain all of these, as well as their punishments, in the next sections.
Sex Crimes Against Minors in Texas
If someone is convicted of any of the following crimes in Texas, one required punishment is sex offender registration.
- Sexual assault
- Continuous sexual abuse of a young child or children
- Sexual performance by a child
- Prohibited sexual conduct
- Online solicitation of a minor
- Promotion or possession of child pornography
- Indecency with a child
Registering as a sex offender is only one of the punishments that those who engage in sexual misconduct with children may face. Depending on the specific charge, some offenders may face first-degree felony charges and life in prison. Sexual assault of a child is a second-degree felony in Texas, with up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000. Additionally, there is no statute of limitations for this crime. That means that offenders can be charged at any point for this crime. In the following sections, we outline the potential punishments for other sexual crimes against children.
Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child
This is a first-degree felony with up to life in prison. If the child involved was under the age of 14, there is no chance of parole unless the offender serves at least half of their sentence. There is no statute of limitations for this crime.
The penalties for this crime depend largely on the age of the victim at the time of the incident, as well as exactly what sexual act occurred. Potential charges under the umbrella of statutory rape include sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and indecency with a child.
Exceptions to Statutory Rape Charges in Texas
The Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas counts as an affirmative defense against a statutory rape charge. An affirmative defense allows someone to be cleared of criminal liability if the evidence they present is found to be credible. If the younger person is at least 14 and if the older person is no more than 3 years older, the older person cannot be charged with statutory rape.
Another affirmative defense and legal exception occurs if the two parties are legally married. With either a court order or parental consent, someone may get married as early as age 16 in Texas. Therefore, someone who marries a 16-year-old may not be charged with statutory rape if the two parties engage in sexual activities.
This is a first-degree felony charge that involves forcing or causing by any means a minor to commit prostitution. The charge stands regardless of whether the offender knew the age of the victim. The minimum jail sentence for this crime is 5 years in prison, up to 99. Offenders can also be fined $10,000.
It is a third-degree felony to either view or possess child pornography. The punishments include a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000. For those who have been previously convicted of possessing child pornography, the offense is raised to a second-degree felony. As a second-degree felony, the offender faces up to 20 years in prison. Three or more charges carry penalties of up to 99 years in prison.
Indecency with a Child
There are two types of indecency with a child in the state of Texas. One is indecency with a child by contact, and the other is indecency with a child by exposure. Contact is a second-degree felony, as it involves physical contact between an adult and a child. The penalties include 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Exposure is a third-degree felony, as it involves the exposure of one’s genitals to a child, but without physical contact. The penalties include 2 to 10 years in prison, as well as fines up to $10,000.
Sex Offender Registration in Texas
For many of the crimes we outlined above, a convicted person must register as a sex offender. This registry is fully accessible to the public, and failing to complete one’s registration is a serious felony. Sex offenders in Texas are divided into 3 different categories according to their level of risk.
- Low-risk offenders: The person is unlikely to commit future sex crimes.
- Moderate-risk offenders: The person may continue to commit sex crimes.
- High-risk offenders: The person poses a threat of committing sexual offenses.
Pursuing civil and criminal charges against sexual offenders is incredibly important, as having their name in the sex offender registry could save someone from future abuse.
How Long Do You Have to Sue an Abuser After Sexual Assault in Texas?
In general, individuals have 30 years to pursue a civil lawsuit for child sexual abuse in Texas. However, you may still have legal options even if this 30-year time limit has passed. Because of a new law passed in 2019, child victims have 30 years from the date of their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. We encourage victims to pursue justice and compensation as early as possible. This helps to preserve physical evidence and rely on more recent memories of the incident. Regardless of how soon someone files, Reich & Binstock are here to fight tooth and nail for just compensation.
Contact the Sexual Abuse Lawyers at Reich & Binstock Today
At Reich & Binstock, we fully understand the lasting emotional and psychological harm that victims of sexual abuse can endure for the rest of their lives. Our sexual abuse attorneys have extensive experience fighting for the rights and compensation of victims of assault. We’ve taken on major organizations and seen great success on behalf of our clients. If you or your child has suffered from child sexual abuse, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our firm. To schedule your free consultation and establish an attorney-client relationship with us, please call 713-622-7271 today.