Increasingly, it seems, teachers are facing sex crime charges involving improper relationships with students. Such charges can lead to severe punishments, including years in prison.
According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), these crimes have been rising each year, including a 36 percent jump in the 2017 fiscal year—the 7th consecutive year that number rose.
Hundreds of sex crime investigations open in recent years
A report in the Houston Chronicle indicated that the TEA opened 302 investigations into improper teacher-student relationships in 2016-2017 alone.
In addition, during the 2018-2019 fiscal years, TEA tracked 442 such inappropriate relationships. And since 2010, over 1,500 investigations into improper teacher-student relationships have been opened.
Such sex crimes are unfortunately common in the Houston area.
In 2019, a teacher in the Houston Independent School District was charged with sexual assault of a child under 17 after a student claimed she had performed oral sex on him.
Of course, these offenses aren’t confined to Texas, and they’re often widely reported as national news. According to a report by People magazine, this month, a North Carolina public school teacher who was once nominated as “Teacher of the Year” was arrested and charged with statutory rape of a child less than 15 years old.
The suspect, who’s the mother of 4, asked a judge to set her bond amount at a low figure so she could pay it and return home to take care of her children. That was denied. Instead, her bond was set at $1 million.
How Texas sex crime laws have changed
Texas sex crime laws have changed to combat this ongoing crisis.
In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that requires school principals to notify their school district superintendents if a teacher is terminated or resigns after allegations of serious misconduct.
Another new law, which took effect in September 2019, requires superintendents to report within 7 days when a non-certified employee resigns or is terminated due to allegations of an improper relationship with a student.
How social media is impacting this crisis
TEA says the rise of social media has had 2 substantial impacts on the situation.
First, social media gives teachers greater access to contact students (and gives students greater access to contact teachers) beyond a normal classroom situation— and thus can contribute to improper teacher-student relationships.
Second, evidence revealed on social media can contribute to pinpointing such improper relationships and, later, to prosecution. In fact, an improper teacher-student relationship may exist entirely on social media and still be an arrest-worthy offense.
Take the case of disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, who was sentenced to 21 months in prison for “sexting” with a minor he’d never actually met in person.
Texas treats teacher sex offenders harshly
Texas also tends to treat teacher sex offenders harshly—along with others who commit sex crimes involving minors.
In Texas, a sex crime involving a minor may lead to decades in prison and high fines, as well as having to register as a sex offender upon release from prison.
Female offenders are more common among teachers
According to the Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM), while women in the general population account for only around 10 percent of all sex crimes reported to authorities, as much as 30 percent of sexual offenses committed by teachers against students are committed by women teachers.
The CSOM, run by the US Department of Justice, says many of these women strongly deny that they committed such crimes.
Another recent study, which was conducted by Fox News Digital, found a percentage almost as high for female teachers, rather than male teachers, committing sex crimes against students.
Its analysis of publicized cases in the first 4 and a half months of 2022 showed that 30 of the 135 US teachers arrested for child-related sex crimes were female, while 105 were male. That means over 22 percent of teachers involved in teacher-student sex crimes were female.
While 22 percent is less than the 30 percent of females involved in teacher-student sex crimes in the CSOM study, it’s still far more than the general population numbers showing that women are the offenders in 10 percent of all sex crimes involving persons of any age.
Teacher-student sex crimes make the news
Sex crimes involving children have a high degree of notoriety. They receive more publicity, more public outrage and harsher penalties than sex crimes in general.
This means that male and female teachers are more in the spotlight when it comes to teacher-student sex crimes, which can be committed by teachers, substitute teachers or teachers’ aides.
Varied types of teacher-student sex crimes
Such teacher-student sex crimes can occur across a broad range of varied offenses, from child pornography to sexual assault to sexual abuse of students.
In Texas, even “sexting” can be treated as a sex crime in cases when a teacher and a student share sexual images via their cell phones. (Cell phone usage has contributed both to teachers’ accessibility to students and to evidence in criminal cases.)
Though not referred to as “sexting” under Texas Penal Code §43.24, the process that’s forbidden by Texas law is the same. An adult who displays or distributes material that’s harmful or prurient (excessively sexual) to a minor under the age of 18 has committed a crime in Texas.
Even teens who have reached the age of consent in Texas, which is 17, should not be involved in such sharing of sexual material with an adult. (The age of consent is the age at which a person can legally consent to sexual activity.)
While teens can legally share such images with a dating partner within 2 years of their own age, if a 17-year-old share sexual images with an adult aged 20 or older, that can be considered a crime—for both the teen and adult.
In fact, if a teacher receives sexual images from a student, that can constitute the crime of possession of child pornography.
Another teacher sex crime charge
Also, keep in mind that even if a student is 17 or older and thus is of the legal age to consent to sexual contact (that occurs with their consent), under Texas law, a teacher can still be charged with an improper relationship with a student.
Along with teachers, any employee of a public or private elementary school, middle school or high school commits a crime by having sexual contact with a student of any age who is enrolled at their school or is enrolled in their school district.
Besides an improper relationship with a student, such crimes can include:
Penalties for improper relationship charges in Texas
“Improper relationships” include any sexual contact between a teacher and a student. Under Texas sex crime laws, a teacher having sex with a student under 17 is a 2nd-degree felony.
The Texas Penal Code states that punishment for such a crime includes a prison sentence of at least 2 years and up to 20 years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000 upon conviction.
Even worse would be an adult having sex with a child under 14 years of age. That is a 1st-degree felony in Texas, with punishments including 5 to 99 years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.
The state of Texas classifies crimes into one of three categories. These classifications (listed in order of severity) are: felonies, misdemeanors and minor offenses.
Get a skilled teacher-student sex crime defense lawyer
Texas and other states are taking such crimes so seriously that punishments can be extremely harsh—and sometimes extremely unfair to teachers.
If you or a loved one faces an accusation or charge of a teacher-student sex crime, contact an experienced, knowledgeable and skilled sex crime defense lawyer at the Neal Davis Law Firm in Houston today. Your reputation and your freedom are too important to delay.
We understand that not all of those who are accused are guilty. Perhaps a disgruntled student accused a teacher of an offense as a means of revenge for getting bad grades. Or a student may have tried to initiate a sexual relationship with a teacher and was spurned, sparking retaliation.
In any event, you must protect your legal rights. Contact us today to arrange a private consultation for your case.