Understanding the New Texas Law on Child Grooming

While there’s no disputing the fact that child abuse is wrong and we know it happens far too often, the legislature’s attempt to avoid such abuse may soon be very heavily disputed. Texas lawmakers enacted a statute that penalizes actions considered to be “child grooming,” which is a process by which an adult manipulates a child into trusting them so that the child can be sexually exploited or abused more readily.

However, the law is broad and vague and subject to multiple interpretations. It is quite possible for a caregiver engaging in normal activities with a child to be charged with this new offense. And grooming is penalized as a serious felony, so it is important for everyone who works with children to understand the need to exercise caution and to take steps to defend their rights if someone makes accusations about “grooming” behavior.

Child Grooming is Considered an Inchoate Offense

The new child grooming statute is set forth in Section 15.032 of the Texas Penal Code along with other offenses considered to be inchoate. These are crimes involving partial completion of an illegal act. Conspiracy is one example, and attempt is another. Taking steps to complete a crime can constitute a crime even if the originally intended crime is never completed.

These crimes all center heavily on the issue of intent, and the new grooming statute is no exception. It can often be challenging to prove why someone took a particular action and what they intended to be the result. It can also be challenging that you didn’t intend to do something, and if certain assumptions are made based on evidence—or if someone makes a false accusation—demonstrating innocence often requires concerted effort.

What Actions Violate the New Statute?

It is not particularly easy to understand what types of conduct violate the Child Grooming law. The terms used are vague and make frequent references to other sections of the Penal Code. Here’s how the statute reads:  

A person commits an offense if, with the intent that an offense under Chapter 43 or an offense involving sexual activity, the occurrence of which would subject the actor to criminal liability under Chapter 20A, 21, or 22, be committed, the person knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces, or attempts to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce, a child younger than 18 years of age to engage in specific conduct that, under the circumstances surrounding the actor’s conduct as the actor believes them to be, would:

(1) constitute an offense under Chapter 43 or an offense involving sexual activity the occurrence of which would subject the actor to criminal liability under Chapter 20A, 21, or 22; or

(2) make the child a party to the commission of an offense described by Subdivision (1).

Essentially, anything interpreted as an attempt to persuade a minor to engage in some type of sexual display or other conduct could be considered a violation. The difficulty is in determining the intent behind an action. If someone gives a child a gift, for example, how do you know why that gift was given? Was it an attempt to get the child comfortable with illegal sexual contact? Or was it an attempt to get the child to eat their spinach?

What if a babysitter takes a child to a movie rated “R” and buys the child candy? Is the candy an attempt to get the child accustomed to mature conduct or a bribe to keep the child from telling the parents that they allowed the child to see the film? Or what if an individual supporting LBGTQIA+ rights tries to talk to a child about gender identity or sexual orientation. Is that education or grooming?

Child Grooming is a Felony

The new child grooming offense is classified as a third-degree felony unless the person convicted has previous convictions for certain sexual offenses. In that situation, child grooming is treated as a second-degree felony.  So for a first-time offender, a conviction carries a minimum sentence of two years in prison up to a maximum of ten years. For someone with a prior conviction, the maximum sentence doubles to 20 years.

The conduct that the child grooming statute aims to prevent—sexual abuse and exploitation—is deserving of this type of penalty. But misinterpreted conduct that is wrongly treated as grooming does not deserve this harsh treatment.

If You are Accused of Child Grooming or Any Sexual Offense, Barbieri Law is Ready to Protect Your Rights and Defend Your Future

At Barbieri Law, we fervently believe that everyone is entitled to the best possible defense, particularly when they have been accused of a serious crime. Our experienced team works tirelessly to protect and defend you using every available strategy. For a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today.

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