Children in Texas cannot consent to sex, but they can still be charged with prostitution after state Governor Greg Abbott vetoed a bill that would have prevented them from being arrested and brought before juvenile courts.
Abbott vetoed House Bill 1771. The legislation, authored by Houston Democrat Shawn Thierry, aimed to amend the Texas penal code to remove children from its definition of prostitution.
The attempt to change the law follows cases of children being arrested and charged with prostitution offenses in Texas.
Under Thierry’s bill, law enforcement officers would have retained the power to apprehend minors they believed were involved in prostitution, the Texas Tribune reported. However, the youngsters would be returned to their parents or the Texas Department of Family Protective Services instead of being locked up.
The bill appeared to be popular among legislators in Austin. Thierry said she was shocked to learn Abbott vetoed it.
She said she worked closely with the governor’s office during the legislative session to make the legislation acceptable.
Thierry is concerned the current laws victimize children who suffer from abuse and punish them by locking them up in cells. She said:
“We are really depriving them of their liberty. They can’t even consent to sex.”
Abbott said the bill would have unintended consequences because it removes the options prosecutors and legislators have to separate victims from traffickers.
The governor said the legislation might provide an incentive for traffickers to use underage prostitutes because they would not be arrested for taking part in prostitution.
In 2017, a Texas Tribune campaign highlighted how sex-trafficked teens often end up being charged with prostitution offenses that send them to prison.
The “Sold Out” campaign highlighted the case of Lena, a 17-year-old girl who ran away from an abusive mother and ended up as one of the youngest inmates of Harris County Jail in Houston. A series of pimps sold her into prostitution.
The article stated nobody wanted Lena to end up in jail, including the police officers who arrested her and the district attorney in charge of the case.
They saw her as a victim rather than a criminal, but she ended up in jail because there was nowhere else to go.
While high profile sex trafficking cases make headlines in Texas, young prostitutes can also face long terms behind bars for a role in an industry that exploits them. If you or a family member is facing a crime of this nature, please contact our Dallas criminal defense team today.