When the 2015 film, “Spotlight” took home best film honors at the 2016 Academy Awards in February, it shone a light on a tragic series of events in American history – sexual abuse by clergy.
And while the film, and much of the press surrounding it, has focused on sexual misconduct among religious leaders, it is important to note that the sexual abuse of minors is not restricted to religious institutions. Unfortunately, for those in the United States, the reality of sexual abuse is far-reaching.
Sexual Abuse Against Minor Children
Sexual abuse against minors, sometimes referred to as child molestation, refers to the inappropriate or sexual contact between a legal adult and minor child. Most commonly known as pedophilia, this type of offense is a serious crime, and can carry extremely heavy penalties for the perpetrator, depending on the laws in your state.
Despite the heinous nature of this type of crime, it is almost impossible to accurately pinpoint the extent of sexual abuse in the United States. Unfortunately, the vast majority of cases go unreported, or are only reported many years after the incident(s).
However, according to a recent report from the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that nearly 10 percent of victimized children are sexually assaulted.
Additionally, recent studies estimate that an overwhelming majority of sexual abuse cases involving minor children go unreported for at least a year – roughly 73 percent. That figure does not improve much over time, with approximately 45 percent of victims keeping their abuse a secret for at least five years.
Identifying Factors in Child Molestation Cases
Although preventing this type of misconduct completely is challenging, there is one consistent factor that exists in many sexual abuse cases involving children – family structure.
And while family structure has evolved significantly over the last few decades, recent studies indicate that children living in households with two married biological parents are at the lowest risk for molestation or related sexual abuse.
The study also revealed that, although the risk increases when children live with single or step parents, the most at-risk group of children for these types of crimes continues to be those without any familial connections, or those in the foster system.
Additionally, gender continues to play a significant role in sexual crimes against minor children – currently, females are five times more likely to experience abuse, compared to males. However, recent figures suggest that more than a quarter of sexual abuse victims under the age of 12 are male.
Though most states have similar statutes on the books regarding these offenses, it is important to note that these laws are enforced on a state-by-state basis.
Texas Child Molestation Laws
In the state of Texas, child molestation refers to any sexual abuse, sexual conduct, or indecency with a child. Like many other states, a child is considered a minor if they are under 17 years of age.
Accusing, or being accused of, this type of crime is not something to be taken lightly. The terrible degree of this type of offense can be reflected in any sentence or penalties, especially in cases that involve particularly young children.
Additionally, knowing a crime is occurring, while failing to report it, is a crime in the state of Texas. According to the Texas Family Code, an individual may be charged with a crime if they are aware, or have cause to believe, that a minor child has or is enduring sexual abuse.
Though these types of cases exist on a case-by-case basis, Texas law holds criminal indecency of a child as a third degree felony. More severe cases, including cases involving multiple acts of sexual misconduct with minors typically result in a first-degree felony.
The serious nature of these types of charges is reflected in the penalties, which range from fines and minor jail sentences to life in prison.
Seeking Legal Help for Sexual Abuse Claims in the Southwest
Dealing with sexual abuse among children is a serious matter. However, victims and their families should know that they are not alone.
If a minor child that you know or love has experienced sexual abuse or other misconduct, it is important that you contact the authorities, and an attorney, as soon as possible.
Throughout Texas and New Mexico, the attorneys at Gilstrap & Associates, P.C. are proud to serve as legal advocates for victims of heinous crimes, like child molestation and abuse. From the beginning, our firm is committed to providing our clients with one thing – justice.
We will work with you to gather any and all relevant evidence, and devise a strategy that delivers the best possible results. From steering investigations. to helping you get the medical or psychological help needed, our legal team is standing by ready to support you and your loved ones today.
Our attorneys are ready to assist you today. To schedule a free initial consultation to assess your case, call the attorneys at Gilstrap & Associates P.C. at (915) 581-0020.