When it comes to protecting minors from sexual activity, the law determines the age of consent – i.e., the age where an individual can legally consent to sexual activity. If an adult engages in any form of sexual activity with someone below the legal age, it is statutory rape, even if the younger party gave their consent. This age varies across states, which all have their own laws on the subject.
While Texas penal codes do not use the phrase “age of consent,” they still provide guidelines for the acceptable age of sexual conduct. According to both Penal Code Section 21.11 and Penal Code Section 22.011, it is illegal for an adult to engage in any form of sexual activity with a child under the age of 17. Once that person turns 17, they can give consent and can legally have sex with someone the same age or older.
A violation of the age of consent happens when a legal adult has any form of sexual intercourse or interaction with someone below the age of 17. Even if the younger person consents, Texas law does not consider anyone 16 or younger sufficiently mature to consent to sexual activity. Engaging in such activities with someone under the age of consent constitutes statutory rape.
While Texas did not previously have any close-in-age exceptions for consensual sexual activities for teenage couples, it now has “Romeo and Juliet” laws to help protect these couples who would otherwise face statutory rape charges. Any teenager aged fourteen or older may participate in a consensual sexual activity with someone within three years of their age, such as a couple where the members are 14 and 17 or even 15 and 18. However, the law does not apply to those 14 and under, who cannot give consent for sexual activity under any circumstances.
Texas law takes the age of consent seriously, and the punishments for these crimes reflect that. There are five potential statutory sexual abuse charges.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, a court may impose multiple sentences and combined punishments on the offender. In addition, the offender’s name will be added to Texas’ sexual offender list for life. Not knowing that the child was below the age of consent does not constitute a defense for statutory rape.
Understanding Texas’s age of consent laws is the first step in knowing what sexual activities are permissible – and which ones can bring severe legal consequences. Contact an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer today if you’re facing criminal charges for sexual assault.