Everyone has a general sense of the new norm for what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to sexual conduct. What you might not know, though, is how sexual harassment is handled under the law. It’s not okay, and it’s not allowed – but does that make it a crime?
No… except sometimes yes.
Legally, sexual harassment is still typically handled as a civil case, not a criminal one. That being said, sexual harassment is a big umbrella, and lots of different kinds of actions fit under it. Because of this, certain types of sexual harassment could become cause for criminal charges in this state.
If you are facing sexual harassment allegations and worry that they might turn into criminal sex charges, an experienced Fort Worth defense attorney can help.
In the meantime, we want to cover the basics of Texas sexual harassment law, and what it takes to turn that civil matter into a crime.
Texas Sexual Harassment Defined
The Texas Penal Code doesn’t address sexual harassment in explicit terms, but it has the potential to be charged as a number of criminal offenses outlined in this article. First, though, here’s how these cases typically begin.
Sexual harassment investigations are initiated via complaint to an employer or state agency. Here in Texas, they’re filed through The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). A number of state laws prohibit certain conduct considered sexual harassment.
Prominent examples include:
- Harassing phone calls, emails, or texts
- Inappropriate romantic notes, gifts, or letters
- Making physical contact inappropriately
- Request of sexual favors
- Showing, sending, or using explicit images or sexually-charged language
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Threats when those advances are denied
When does sexual harassment cross the line to become a sex crime?
Harassment as a Texas Sex Crime
Sexual harassment cases taken through the Texas criminal court system are typically misdemeanor crimes, but in more severe cases, you could be facing a felony. These are the three most common criminal charges:
When someone intends to “harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass” another person by making an obscene comment or proposal, they may face this Class B Misdemeanor charge, which carries a six-month jail sentence and a $2,000 fine.
Any contact classified as “inappropriate” under civil sexual harassment can quickly be flipped to a criminal assault charge when you reasonably know it could be regarded as offensive or provocative. This Class C Misdemeanor carries a $500 fine, unless the contact caused someone “pain.” Then it’s a year of jail time and a $4,000 fine (Class A Misdemeanor crime).
Charges of sexual assault always require evidence of penetration – without consent. More often than not, those harassment-turned-sexual assault-cases involve after-hours celebration, happy hours, and similar situations.
Ultimately, no means no regardless of intent. This is a second-degree felony carrying two to 20 years in prison, and fines reaching $10,000.
Apart from general sentencing, often those convicted of these crimes face a number of collateral consequences which can affect life well beyond serving time and paying fines.
Collateral Consequences for Texas Sex Crime Charges
“Collateral consequences of criminal conviction” are the host of results or effects of a guilty verdict. The phenomenon is known in the legal community as “The Four Cs.”
Parts of your life that could be impacted by conviction include but are not limited to: financial sustainability; eligibility for employment and business opportunities; access to government benefits and programs (student loans, housing, etc.); rights to vote and own or possess firearms.
Specific to a sexual assault conviction, you are likely going to be required to register through the Texas Sex Offender Registry for a minimum of 10 years, and suffer damage to your personal and professional reputation indefinitely.
This is why it is imperative that you fight back if you are hit with a criminal charge for sexual harassment. Become educated, and arm yourself with the right Tarrant County legal defense team. It could make all the difference.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.