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Internet Sex Crimes in Texas

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Sex Crimes on the Internet

People use the Internet for a wide variety of reasons. Many people have used websites and online forums to exchange explicit messages or images. While some types of explicit communications and pornography are legal on the Internet, there is a fine line between legal use and criminal actions online.

Sex crimes are some of the most commonly prosecuted criminal offenses that occur with the use of the Internet. These offenses range from minor crimes to serious felonies. Understanding the differences between these criminal offenses and the penalties associated with them can help people protect themselves online and stay safe while using the Internet.

Internet Sex Crimes: What Is Illegal Online?

Although the Internet may seem like a different world, people who go online are subject to the same legal rules that govern everyday life. The Internet is a communications medium that uses phone lines and digital connections to share information. For this reason, activity on the Internet falls under the jurisdiction of both state and federal laws. Breaking the law online can lead to similar criminal penalties as breaking the law in person.

The majority of sex crimes have to do with perpetrating sexual activity against a person who does not consent to the activity or who cannot consent to the activity. For this reason, many Internet sex crimes occur when an adult attempts to engage in illegal activity involving minors and children.

While it may be impossible to physically assault someone online, viewing illegal material or attempting to arrange sexual contact with minors online can result in criminal prosecution. Some common Internet sex crimes include:

All of these are serious offenses that can be punished with severe legal penalties if a conviction is reached. Here is some information about each one of these crimes.

Internet Sex Crimes Definitions

Child Pornography

Section 43.26 of the Texas Penal Code states that child pornography is any type of material which visually depicts a minor under the age of 18 engaging in any type of sexual conduct. Sexual conduct can include any type of intercourse, sexual touching, provocative nudity or sexual performances.

Under the law, it is a crime to intentionally or knowingly possess or access with intent to view any type of child pornography. For example, a person who intentionally accesses a website where they know child pornography is available is just as guilty as a person who downloads or trades such images.

Possessing or accessing child pornography with intent to view it is a felony of the second degree. This is punishable by:

  • Two to 20 years in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Possible lifetime registration as a sex offender

This is one of the most serious Internet sex crimes but other online offenses are punished harshly as well.

Solicitation Of A Minor

Section 33.021 of the Texas Penal Code makes it a crime to attempt to solicit a minor under 17 years of age online for sexual purposes. This type of solicitation includes attempts to:

  • Persuade a minor to meet for sexual contact or sexual intercourse
  • Distribute sexually explicit material to a minor
  • Communicate with a minor in a sexually explicit manner in order to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person

It is not a defense to prosecution to claim that the defendant never intended to follow through with the meeting or to claim that the defendant was only engaging in a fantasy. It is also not a defense to prosecution to claim that no crime was committed because the minor was posing as an underage person when they were actually an adult.

This crime is a felony of the third degree, punishable by:

  • Two to 10 years in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Possible mandatory registration as a sex offender

Solicitation or Promotion of Prostitution

Many people who engage in prostitution do so using sites that advertise various types of sexual services. Sometimes these sites will offer “massage” or “body rub” services instead of explicitly offering sex for pay. However, using these terms does not make someone immune to prosecution.

Chapter 43 of the Texas Penal Code spells out the definitions of and penalties for prostitution and promotion of prostitution. A person who attempts to arrange a sexual encounter in exchange for payment is guilty of prostitution, a class B misdemeanor. This is punishable by:

  • Up to 180 days in county jail
  • A fine of up to $2000

A person who creates such prostitution advertisements or who attempts to persuade people to engage in prostitution services is guilty of promotion of prostitution, a class A misdemeanor. This is punishable by:

  • Up to one year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $4000

People who are repeatedly convicted of these offenses may have their charges enhanced and may be required to register as sex offenders.

Sex Trafficking

Trafficking is a crime which involves transporting a person or persons, often against their will, for the purposes of making that person perform certain actions for monetary benefit. On the Internet, this often occurs for the purposes of forced prostitution.

Participating in trafficking or obtaining any type of benefit from a trafficking operation is a felony of the second degree, punishable by:

  • Two to 20 years in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Possible mandatory registration as a sex offender for life

A person who engages in trafficking of minors may have their charges enhanced to first degree felony status, punishable by a maximum term of life imprisonment.

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