Laws are necessary in order to protect you, but legal language can be difficult and boring to read. This section summarizes Texas’ laws that apply to bullying, harassment, sexting, revenge porn, sextortion, and child pornography.
Keep in Mind:
- New laws are passed all the time.
- Ignorance of the law, in other words saying: “I didn’t know,” is never a defense.
- Texas district attorneys can add charges if evidence warrants.
- Some adults may not know about apps to hide files, but police do and can access them.
Texas lawmakers got to work creating stricter bullying laws after David Molak, age 16, died by suicide in 2016 in San Antonio, after he endured relentless cyberbullying. The bill passed with a unanimous vote, and in June 2017 Governor Greg Abbott signed David’s Law into law allowing school districts, police, and prosecutors to fight cyberbullying on multiple fronts, with expanded definitions and tools.
Watch the video below and ask yourself:
- Why did this law need to be passed?
Video | 1:10
Texas Bullying defined:
- Consists of all forms of communication.24
- Includes off-campus actions and communications that interfere with a student’s educational opportunities, or significantly disrupts the school environment.25
- No longer needs to be a pattern, it can be a single significant act.26
- Schools must have a bullying policy, anonymous and regular reporting system, and protect staff and students who report bullying.27
- Authorities may be notified, and parents or guardians must be notified.28
- Allows a court to issue a temporary restraining order, temporary injunction, or permanent injunction to prevent any further cyberbullying by the guilty minor or the parent or guardian of the guilty minor may be compelled to take reasonable actions to cause the minor under their care to cease engaging in cyberbullying.29
- Allows transfer of students to another school when necessary.30
- All school counselors, teachers, nurses, administrators, and other staff, as well as law enforcement officers and social workers who regularly interact with students must receive training in suicide, bullying, and harassment.31
Texas Sexting Laws Involving Young People
Sexting is a crime in Texas even if no adult is involved. Under Texas Penal Code Section 43.261, it is a crime for a minor to “intentionally or knowingly” send another minor an obscene photo/video or a photo/video of a minor engaging in sexual conduct, if they know it was a minor. First-time offenses are punishable by a Class C misdemeanor, but the statute indicates that under some circumstances a first-time offender can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
In 2019, the Texas Legislature added Penal Code 21.19 which states that a Class C misdemeanor is committed by a person if they knowingly transmit electronic visual material that depicts any person engaging in sexual conduct or with the person’s intimate parts exposed that is not sent at the request of or with the express consent of the recipient. This applies to all electronic platforms such as email, texts, apps, and social media. These laws exist to protect you. Do not allow them to discourage you from involving law enforcement if you are a victim.
Texas Revenge Porn Law
In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed Texas Penal Code Section 21.16, the “Revenge Porn Statute.” In 2017, this law was amended updating the penalty from a Class A Misdemeanor to a state jail felony for someone to reveal or disclose images of someone engaged in sexual conduct or images of someone’s intimate parts unless that person gives their consent when that person had a reasonable expectation that the material would remain private.
Texas Sextortion Laws
Texas Penal Code 33.021 makes it a felony offense to solicit anyone under the age of 17 (a minor), or anyone the offender believes to be under the age of 17, online for sexual contact or have sexually explicit communication with a minor, or someone they believe to be a minor.
Texas Penal Code 33.07 states that if a person “uses the name or persona of another person” without that person’s consent and with the intent to harm, threaten, defraud, or intimidate the person, he or she has committed a felony offense.
Texas Penal Code 21.18 defines sexual coercion as an act involving sexual conduct causing arousal or gratification. This section applies to a threat regardless of how that threat is communicated, including a threat transmitted through email or an internet website, social media account, or chat room and a threat made by other electronic or technological means. Such action is a felony offense.
Texas Child Pornography Law
Texas Penal Code 43.26 states that it is a felony crime, up to the first degree, for an adult to knowingly or intentionally possess or access with the intent to view material that depicts a child under the age of 18 engaging in sexual conduct; this includes sexting with a minor.
You may be thinking, “charges against minors can be expunged from legal records.”
True. However, remember you can never completely remove information about you from the internet.
23David’s Law - Senate Bill 179