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Penalties for a Sex Crime Against a Child vs. an Adult

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Adult Sex Crimes vs. Child Sex Crimes

In Texas, crimes of a sexual nature are typically prosecuted and punished based on the status of the victim. For example, a sex crime which results in serious injury to the victim will be punished more harshly than a crime involving minor injuries. Also, sex crimes which victimize vulnerable people, such as children, are punished more severely.

Although all types of sex crimes are treated seriously by the Texas judicial system, those which target children and minors are considered among the most serious. Sex crimes which victimize children may also be prosecuted differently than crimes which target adults.

Sexual Assault of an Adult

Section 22.011 of the Texas Penal Code states that it is a criminal offense to cause sexual penetration or contact with another person without that person’s consent. A person who causes contact or penetration between a victim’s mouth, anus or sexual organs with the sexual organs, anus or mouth of another person without consent has committed sexual assault.

The most important factor of a sexual assault case is the issue of consent. Consent must be present for a sexual encounter to be considered legal. If a person does not obtain consent or if consent is denied before sexual contact or penetration occurs, a crime has been committed.

Consent can be absent or denied in variety of circumstances, including:

  • Direct denial or refusal of sexual activity
  • Inability to give consent due to being unconscious or drugged
  • Use of threats, force or coercion to obtain consent

There are several circumstances in which a person cannot legally give consent. For example, an unconscious person is not legally capable of giving consent, even if they gave consent prior to becoming unconscious. Also, a person who is mentally incapable of understanding sexual activity cannot give consent, even if they verbally agree to sexual activity.

Sexual assault is considered a felony of the second degree, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Convicted offenders may also be ordered to register as sex offenders for the remainder of their lives.

The issue of consent is one of the most significant factors when comparing adult sex crimes to child sex crimes.

Sexual Assault of a Child

As with the sexual assault of an adult, non-consensual sexual activity with a child under 17 years of age is a crime in Texas. The biggest difference between these two offenses is that children under 17 years of age cannot consent to any sexual activity in Texas.

Therefore, any type of sexual contact by an adult with a child under the age of 17 is considered non-consensual and a crime. This is true even if the child agreed to participate in sexual activity.

It is a defense to prosecution if the perpetrator of the sexual assault was no more than three years older than a child victim who was older then 14. For example, if a 15 year old girl and her 18 year old boyfriend have sex, a crime has not necessarily been committed, even though a minor was involved.

As with sex crimes which target adults, sexual assault of a child is a second degree felony in Texas, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. A person who is convicted of this crime may be more likely to be ordered to register as a sex offender than a person convicted of sexual assault of an adult.

Another significant difference is that a conviction for sexual assault of a child may be more likely to lead to additional charges for the defendant.

Additional Charges

A person who is convicted of sexually assaulting a minor may also face charges based on the harm they caused to the victim. For example, a person who is convicted on this charge may also be convicted of:

  • Indecency with a child
  • Child abuse
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a child or young children

While a person who is convicted of sexual assault of an adult can face additional charges, a person who assaults a child may be much more likely to be charged with additional counts because there are more criminal charges available for sex offenders who target minors.

Differences in Prosecution

Proving the absence of consent is the key to securing a conviction for a sexual assault crime.

In cases involving adults, consent may be difficult to establish. For example, two people who become intoxicated and then have sex may have differing claims regarding the absence of consent. Without physical evidence, it can be hard to prove if a person denied or did not provide consent.

In cases involving children, it is easier to prove that a crime has been committed because minors and children cannot give consent under any circumstances. In these cases, it is not a valid defense to prosecution to claim that a person actually consented to sexual activity.

Even if a minor agrees to sexual activity, such activity is a crime unless the parties involved are extremely close in age or if they are legally married.


Although the charges of sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of an adult may be tried in similar ways, it may be somewhat easier to prove that a crime has been committed against a child due to their inability to give consent. Also, although these two crimes have the same punishment, a person who commits a sex crime against a minor may be more likely to face additional charges which can significantly increase their sentence.

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