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Improper Teacher-Student Relationship Defense Attorney

The teacher-student relationship is inherently unequal: teachers are in a position of authority while students are in a position of little power. Sexual interactions between educators and students usually mean the teacher has taken advantage of:

  • The lack of life experience to understand the nature and consequences of sexual activity (especially with a teacher).
  • Frequently are intimidated by authority figures making it difficult to report educator misbehavior.
  • May even be flattered that a powerful figure finds them attractive.
  • Often fear what will happen to their reputation if other students find out about the activity.

In the fiscal school year of 2016 alone, the Texas Education Agency opened 222 investigations of inappropriate relationships.

In addition to the existing law criminalizing sex between students and teachers, the Texas legislature is considering additional punishments for teachers, possibly including loss of pensions and imposing criminal punishments on administrators who fail to report teachers who have histories of improper relationships with students. Failure to report these teachers allows them to remain employed in education is a phenomenon labeled “passing the trash.”

Texas Law

Section 21.12 of the Texas Code specifically makes “improper” relationships between students and educators a crime. The sexual conduct that occurs between an educator and a student may also amount to a violation of one of the other Texas laws that protect children from sexual activity, such as:

  • Child sexual abuse.
  • Continuous child sexual abuse (multiple incidences of abuse of victims under 14 by someone over 17).
  • Indecency with a child.
  • Sexual performance by a child.
  • Sexual assault.
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault (victims under 14, where force was used or threatened).

When the conduct violates the law addressing improper relationships between students and educators explicitly, and a more general criminal statute, the defendant can be prosecuted under either of the statutes or both. Speak with a sex crimes attorney for more information and legal advice.

What Educators and Students are Covered?

The law is directed at more than just teachers. It applies to any employee of a primary school or secondary school, regardless of whether the school is public or private. Post-secondary educators at colleges are not covered by this law.

It protects students who are enrolled in the same school where the educator works. And, if the educator has a permit or certificate under the education laws, or is required to have a license from a state agency, the law also protects students in the same school district as the educator’s school, or who participates in activity that a school or district sponsors.

Note that the prohibited activity can occur anywhere; there is no requirement that it be at school or during school activities.

What Activity is Prohibited?

The law specifically prohibits three types of sexual activity, described as

  • Sexual contact (touching the genitals, breasts or anus intending to gratify or arouse).
  • Sexual intercourse (penetration of the female organ by the male organ).
  • Deviate sexual intercourse (oral or anal sex, or penetration with an object).

Possible Defenses for an Improper Relationship

It is always a defense if you can prove that the educator or the student is not covered by the law, or that the activity that occurred does not meet the definitions above.

In addition, the law prohibiting student-educator relationships explicitly creates two “affirmative defenses,” which exonerate a defendant even if the defendant committed the prohibited acts. These are:

  • The student and educator were married at the time the sexual activity occurred.
  • The student and educator differ in age by no more than three years, and the relationship began before the educator began working at a school covered by the law.

It is also a defense that no sexual contact actually occurred. It’s not a crime to have feelings for a student, nor is it a crime to have expressed those feelings in words or writings as long as the relationship did not become physical, nor was used as a means of coercion.

Penalties

Violation of the law is classified as a second-degree felony. Conviction means a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and fines up to $10,000.

Obtain Competent, Experienced Legal Defense

Any educator accused of a sexual offense involving a student is going to have a hard time staying employed as a teacher. If convicted, their career is likely over. The cases are stressful, almost always accompanied by adverse publicity that can stress or destroy marriages and families, and likely to be zealously pursued by the state once charges have been filed.

Whether you have been charged or are simply under investigation, you need experienced help. Call the Houston firm of Mary E. Conn Law. Mary E. Conn is a top-rated Texas sex crimes lawyer who brings 30 years of experience in handling these kinds of sensational cases to your defense. Call Mary E. Conn Law today for your free consultation.