We all have an image in our heads of prostitution. Many of us picture a woman on the street corner waiting for someone to swing by and offer her a "date." Today, many people also want to validate sex work, saying it's empowering for women and men. But the reality of prostitution can be much harsher. Many prostitutes in Texas are victims of human trafficking, which involves women, men, and children exploited and forced to have sex or perform labor for the profit of a third person.
Sex Trafficking in the United States
Estimates from the U.S. Department of State suggest that 27.6 million people are victims of sex trafficking across the world at any given time. Sex trafficking is the exploitation of women, men, and children forced to have sex or perform sexual acts with others for the profit of a third person. While more than 175 countries have ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, obligating them to prevent and combat human trafficking, it remains an urgent human rights issue.
Unfortunately, this is also a problem in the United States, with estimates of anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 people in the U.S. falling victim to sex trafficking each year. Twenty-five to thirty percent of all sex trafficking victims are children. Children and young adults most likely to fall victim to sex trafficking are those who have run away from home or have drug problems, making this an urgent safety issue for vulnerable kids.
Sex Trafficking in Texas
Unfortunately, Texas is not immune to the problem of human trafficking. Because of its proximity to the Mexican border, Texas is the number two state in the country for human trafficking. Researchers at the University of Texas estimate that up to 313,000 people are trafficked in Texas at any time. This estimate includes 79,000 children and youth victims of sex trafficking.
Because sex trafficking, particularly sex trafficking of minors, is such a problem in Texas, the state imposes serious penalties on those who engage in prostitution with minors and solicit minors for sexual activity. Mistakes can happen, but it's important to understand the potential consequences if you face an arrest for prostitution or any sexual activity with a minor. It's also important to understand the serious consequences of soliciting sex online. You can't know the person's age on the other end of your conversation. As a result, you can still face charges for online solicitation of a minor even if you don't actually engage in sexual activity or prostitution with a minor.
Sex Trafficking and Prostitution in Texas
To crack down on sex trafficking, the Texas legislature recently overhauled its prostitution statutes, imposing more serious consequences for soliciting prostitution. While prostitution between adults is a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense, soliciting prostitution is a state jail felony. Even if an adult is on the other end of your transaction, you could face up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine for a first offense. In Texas, "solicitation of prostitution" happens when someone "knowingly offering or agreeing to pay a fee to another person to engage in sexual conduct with that person or another." Tex. Penal Code § 43.021 (2021).
If a minor, meaning someone under 18, is on the other end of your transaction, the penalties are more severe. You can face a second-degree felony for soliciting a minor if the individual is under 18 or you believed they were under 18. In Texas, a conviction for a second-degree felony is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison and up to 20 years and a $10,000 fine.
Online Solicitation of a Minor
If you contact a prostitute or escort online, you have no idea if you're making contact with an adult or a minor. In Texas, if you communicate online in a sexually explicit way with someone under 17, you could face felony charges for online solicitation of a minor. Moreover, asking a minor to meet you for sex or sexual contact is illegal, even if you don't know that the minor is under 17. The Texas Penal Code states:
A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if [they], over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:
- communicates in a sexually explicit manner with a minor; or
- distributes sexually explicit material to a minor.
Tex. Penal Code § 33.021 (b) (2021).
Sexually explicit" means "any communication, language, or material, including a photographic or video image, that relates to or describes sexual conduct…." Id. at § 33.021 (a)(3). You may also face online solicitation of a minor charges if you solicit a minor to meet with you or someone else for sex:
[…] over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, knowingly solicit a minor to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.
Tex. Penal Code § 33.021 (c) (2021).
It's important to remember that you face charges for online solicitation of a minor even if you don't know that they're under 17. You can also face charges if you believe the individual is 17, even if they aren't. Moreover, you can still be found guilty of even if the meeting doesn't actually occur.
In Texas, online solicitation of a minor is a felony, ranging from third-degree to first-degree felony charges. The grade of offense will depend in part on the minor's age, the circumstances of your case, and whether or not your communication took place during school hours. The law increases the penalty by one degree if your communication happens during school hours and you knew or should have known that the minor was enrolled in a kindergarten through 12th-grade public or private school.
- Online solicitation of a minor is typically a third-degree felony. A conviction in Texas is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
- If the minor is under 14, online solicitation is a second-degree felony. A conviction is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
- If your offense increases by one degree because it happened during school hours, online solicitation of a minor is a first-degree felony. A conviction is punishable by up to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
You can face charges for online solicitation of a minor in addition to charges that fall under the category of statutory rape.
The charges you could face for engaging in sexual acts with a minor don't end with online solicitation or solicitation of a prostitute; you could also face felony charges for statutory rape.
Indecency with a Child
Charges for indecency with a child in Texas don't require actual penetrative sex. Rather, you can face charges if you are an adult who engages in any sexual touching meant to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of anyone with someone under 17. The law states:
A person commits an offense if, with a child younger than 17 years of age, whether the child is of the same or opposite sex and regardless of whether the person knows the age of the child at the time of the offense, the person:
- engages in sexual contact with the child or causes the child to engage in sexual contact; or
- with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person:
- exposes the person's anus or any part of the person's genitals, knowing the child is present; or
- causes the child to expose the child's anus or any part of the child's genitals.
Tex. Pen. Code § 21.11 (2017).
Indecency with a child is a third or second-degree felony in Texas. A conviction for a third-degree felony is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. A second-degree felony conviction is punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Under Texas law, any adult who has sex with anyone under 17 can be charged with sexual assault. The law states that you can face charges for sexual assault even if you don't know that the individual is under 17. You may be face charges if you:
[I]ntentionally or knowingly:
- cause the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of a child by any means;
- cause the penetration of the mouth of a child by the sexual organ of the actor;
- cause the sexual organ of a child to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor;
- cause the anus of a child to contact the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor; or
- cause the mouth of a child to contact the anus or sexual organ of another person, including the actor.
Tex. Penal Code § 22.011(a)(2) (2021).
Sexual assault of a minor is a second-degree felony in Texas. A conviction is punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Aggravated Sexual Assault
You can face charges for aggravated sexual assault if you have sex with anyone 14 or younger in Texas. Sexual assault becomes aggravated sexual assault when they have sex or sexual contact with anyone they are prohibited from marrying or engaging in sexual intercourse with under Texas law because of their age. See Tex. Penal Code § 25.11(f) (2021). Aggravated sexual assault with a minor is a first-degree felony in Texas. You will spend a minimum of five years in prison for a first-degree felony conviction. Penalties range from five to 99 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Defenses to Statutory Rape Charges
Defenses to sexual assault of a minor and indecencies with a minor include:
- You weren't more than three years older than the victim at the time of the offense, and you aren't a registered sex offender, or
- You were married to the victim at the time of the offense.
While being no more than three years older than the child may be a defense to a statutory rape charge, it is not a defense to solicitation of a prostitute or online solicitation of a minor.
Hire an Expert in Texas Criminal Defense Law
If you're facing an arrest in Texas for prostitution with a minor, sexual activity with a minor, or soliciting a minor, the consequences of a conviction can be severe, destroying the rest of your life. You could face multiple felonies with potentially decades in prison. You need an expert in criminal defense law protecting your rights and vigorously defending you at each step in the criminal justice system, someone well-versed in handling complex Texas criminal cases. Attorney Doug Murphy is an expert in Texas criminal defense law and DWI defense. Doug is Board Certified in both Criminal Defense law and DWI Defense, making him a recognized expert in these two complex areas of Texas law. Doug is one of only two Texas attorneys who is Board Certified in both these specialties, with extensive courtroom and negotiation experience.
Doug is also well-regarded by the Houston legal community. He was recently named "Lawyer of the Year" for 2021 and 2023 Houston DWI defense by U.S. News & World Report. He earned this honor through the nominations and votes of his fellow attorneys in the Houston area. Doug has also served two terms on the Board of directors for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, as co-chair of the DWI Committee, and as President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.
Doug and the skilled team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C., have been helping Houston-area defendants against white-collar criminal charges for years. With extensive experience as both prosecutors and defense attorneys, they're uniquely qualified to negotiate with prosecutors and pick apart the state's case before and after trial. Let them put their experience to work for you too. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm at 713-229-8333 or contact them online to schedule your consultation today.