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New Texas Law Criminalizes “Grooming” a Child for Sexual Abuse

In September 2023, Texas enacted a law prohibiting behavior known as “grooming,” defined as an adult building a relationship with a child in order to gain their trust for illicit purposes. The statute is meant to allow law enforcement to intervene early in order to prevent harm to minors. Despite this laudable goal, the law has raised concerns about potential overreach, since it criminalizes actions that are normally not illegal.

The Texas Child Grooming Law makes it a crime to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce a child under age 18 to engage in conduct that could lead to a sexual offense or that could make them a party to such an offense. Attempting any of those actions is also a crime. A first-time conviction is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The crime increases to a second-degree felony if the perpetrator has prior convictions for certain child-related offenses.

Grooming may be suspected in situations where a relative, teacher, school official, coach, religious minister or other adult does any of the following:

  • Carries on extensive online communications with the child
  • Shows special attention or empathy toward the child
  • Makes physical displays of affection, such as touching, hugging or kissing
  • Gives the child gifts, money or privileges, such as providing transportation
  • Spends a large amount of time with the child and keeps them isolated from other people
  • Monitors and/or limits the child’s communications, both online and otherwise
  • Exposes the child to adult topics of conversation and/or media that is not age-appropriate
  • Acts in a paternal or maternal role that gives the child a sense of reliance and even dependency

Any of these behaviors might be coupled with encouraging the child not to reveal the detail of their relationship to others.

However, a grooming conviction requires an illicit intent, and critics say this is why it can be subject to prosecutorial abuse. It is a subjective judgment whether or not the actions taken by the alleged groomer are meant to induce the child to be involved in sexual conduct. Critics say the law could be misused to target legitimate interactions between adults and children, such as mentoring or counseling relationships. There is also concern about infringement of free speech rights.

Due to the seriousness of the law’s potential penalties and the ambiguities about how it will be interpreted, anyone charged with a violation needs to seek assistance from a Texas criminal lawyer with experience in child solicitation cases. Among the defenses that can be asserted are showing lack of illicit intent and misinterpretation of evidence. It is also possible to raise a due process defense alleging the statute’s vagueness, overbreadth and infringement on free speech.

At the office of Tylden Shaeffer, Attorney at Law, P.C. in San Antonio, I defend individuals charged with criminal solicitation and other offenses against minors. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call (210) 227-1500 or contact me online.

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