Texas law makes it illegal for a person to have sex with a minor younger than 17. Those who break the law have committed what's commonly referred to as statutory rape. Texas does not use the term "statutory rape." Rather, anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 17 can face charges for aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, or indecency with a child.
Keep in mind that engaging in any sexual activity by force or without the other person's consent can result in more serious charges and penalties, no matter the age of the other person.
In Texas, the age of consent is 17. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 17 risks being charged with sexual assault or a similar crime. For these age-based sexual offenses, it's immaterial whether the child consented to the activity or not. Rather, it's the child's age that is important, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.
Texas law contains several offenses related to sexual crimes involving children younger than 17. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, as well as the circumstances surrounding the sexual behavior.
A person commits aggravated sexual assault of a child by knowingly or intentionally having sexual intercourse (penetration however slight) or anal or oral sex with a child younger than 14.
Aggravated sexual assault constitutes a first-degree felony, which carries a prison term of five years to life and a $10,000 fine. The minimum length of imprisonment increases from five to 25 years in cases where the victim is younger than 6.
A person commits sexual assault of a child by knowingly or intentionally having sexual intercourse (penetration however slight) or anal or oral sex with a child younger than 17.
This offense is a second-degree felony and subjects a defendant to two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
An affirmative defense applies if the child is 14 to 17 and the offender is not more than 3 years older. (See Does Texas Have a Romeo-and-Juliet Law? below.)
Indecency with a child involves sexual contact with a minor who is younger than 17. Sexual contact refers to touching (other than penetration) of a person's intimate parts, over or under clothing, that is meant to arouse or gratify sexual desire. It also includes exposure of one's sex organs.
Indecency with a child involving sexual contact constitutes a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Exposure of one's sex organ is a third-degree felony, which subjects an offender to two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
An affirmative defense applies if the offender is not more than 3 years older than the victim and of the opposite sex. (See Does Texas Have a Romeo-and-Juliet Law? below.)
In many states, "Romeo-and-Juliet" exceptions—named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers—protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual conduct with others close to their own age. Texas has a Romeo-and-Juliet law for consensual sex between a minor who is 14 to 17 and an offender who is not more than 3 years older than the minor. A defendant can raise this issue as an affirmative defense, as long as the defendant isn't required to register as a sex offender. A similar "Romeo-and-Juliet" defense applies in indecency (sexual contact) cases; however, it does not apply to same-sex sexual encounters.
Defendants charged with statutory rape crimes in Texas have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.
Defendants charged with a statutory rape crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."
Texas has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor and their adult spouse even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. The marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption.
Texas, like many states, doesn't recognize a mistake-of-age defense for sex crimes involving underage victims, even if the defendant's belief was reasonable or the child lied about their age or looked older.
Texas's Sex Offender Registration Program requires adult defendants convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault to register as sex offenders for life. Convictions for indecency with a child require registration for at least 10 years, and sometimes more, depending on the circumstances of the offense. Juvenile offenders are typically required to register for 10 years.
Failure to comply with registration requirements results in an additional felony charge. The charge can be for a second-degree or third-degree felony, depending on the registrant's sex offender conditions. Convictions result in two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. A juvenile who violates registration requirements faces a state jail felony conviction, which carries 180 days to two years of incarceration and a $10,000 fine.
If you are facing criminal charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution's case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to the unique circumstances of your case. A knowledgeable attorney can also advise you on how the law will apply to your set of facts.
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.32 to .35; 21.01; 21.11; 22.011; 22.021; Tex. Crim. Proc. Code §§ 62.001, -.101, -.102; Tex. Gov't Code § 501.061 (2022); State v. Limon, 122 P.3d 22 (Kan. 2005).)