Sexual Assault in Texas
last updated February 2012
The Texas Department of Public Safety reported that 7,626 rapes occurred in Texas in 2010. That amounts to 35.3 rapes per 100,000 people in the state, down from 30.3 rapes per 100,000 people in 2010. Rapes accounted for 6.7% of all violent crimes in Texas that year. The TPDS reports that 44% of all rapes in 2010 were “cleared by arrest.” The report explains that “[f]or Uniform Crime Reporting purposes, an offense is cleared only when a law enforcement agency has identified the offender, enough evidence exists to press charges, and the subject is actually taken into custody.”
Rape, like family violence, appears to disproportionately affect Texas’ Hispanic population. The Texas Council on Family Violence reported in 2002 that 18% of Hispanic women had been forced to have sex against their will.
Rape, however, is only one form of sexual assault. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were 19,000 reported incidences of sexual assault in 2010, and 6,000 victims of sexual abuse were 19-years-old or younger.
Texas’s Sex Offender Registry
The Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS) manages the state’s Sex Offender Registry. As part of that program, the TDPS maintains an online sex offender database that allows the public to search any part of the state for nearby registered sex offenders by address, country, or zip code. Parents can also specifically search for sex offenders near a given school. The site marks sex offenders’ addresses with different-colored markers based on their evaluation of each sex offender’s “risk level.”
Texas’ registry forces sex offenders to provide their current addresses, updated annually (or more often for certain types of offenders), as well as a long list of other identifying information. Some of the information, like the offender’s name and description and the specifics of his conviction, is designed to put the public on notice. Other information, like the registrant’s fingerprints and shoe size, is designed to help law enforcement investigate future sex offenses.
In addition to the online database, Texas notifies the public when a sex offender moves to a new community. Law enforcement can publish information about any sex offender in local newspapers and periodicals where the person intends to reside, unless his registration is private or sealed. If the sex offender has been convicted of a violent offense, has been civilly committed, or is classified as “high risk,” police can also notify the public via postcards. Local law enforcement will notify nearby schools about sex offenders whose victims were under age 17, who were convicted of offenses involving child pornography, or who will be attending the school, unless the sex offender was only convicted of incest.
The Council on Sex Offender Treatment, a part of the Texas Department of State Health Services, creates regulations on sex offenders, which are listed in Title 22, Chapter 810 of the Texas Administration Code. The regulations describe how sex offenders are classified by risk level, when and how violent sex offenders will be civilly committed, discuss the administration of court-ordered treatment and therapy for convicted sex offenders, and prescribe standards and ethics for dealing with sex offenders.
Recent Developments in Sexual Assault Law in Texas
Growing outrage and concern over sex crimes against children has led to reforms that extend to all sexual assault laws. In 2007, Texas’ legislature passed 16 new laws dealing with sexual assault. The most important was Jessica’s Law (HB 8), a comprehensive reform of Texas’ sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault statutes. Jessica’s Law removed the statute of limitations for sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault, added the offense of Continuous Abuse of a Child to the Texas Penal Code, provided for Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) monitoring of violent sex offenders, and requires schools to expel students who commit sexual assaults on school grounds. The law also mandates sentences of 25 years to life for aggravated sexual assault of a child under six, aggravated sexual assault of a child (aged 6 and 14) under certain conditions, and continuous sexual assault on a child.
However, Texas did not adopt the same residency restrictions on convicted sex offenders that Florida and other states have introduced. The original version of Jessica’s Law prohibited sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or a park. Sexual assault advocacy groups like the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault lobbied against such residency requirements, because research showed that they resulted in sex offenders failing to register or update their addresses in sex offender registries, becoming homeless – and thus more dangerous – or moving to more rural areas with fewer law enforcement resources. At the same time, there was no demonstrable proof the laws reduced the number of sexual assaults in general or against children in states that enacted the residency requirements.
While Texas does not impose residency requirements, it does impose “child safety zones” on parolees and sex offenders on probation, if those offenders’ victims were under age 17. A child safety zone prevents a sex offender from engaging in activities that regularly involve children, including children’s athletic and social events and school functions.
Texas has also considered other restrictions on the economic activities of sex offenders. On April 1, 2009, new provisions of Chapter 102 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code went into effect. The new law prohibits convicted sex offenders from owning or operating sexually oriented businesses.