Court overturns convictions for online sex chatter with minors

(KXAN File Photo)
(KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Did you know it’s perfectly legal in Texas for an adult to send sexually explicit communications to minors online, as long as there is no clear intent to harm the child? The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has just overturned the prison convictions of seven men who did just that. They were serving sentences of two years to life, and now many more are also expected to be freed. It’s because the courts overturned a 2005 law that jailed such people, and now local parents and lawmakers are scrambling to protect the kids.

The courts say anyone convicted before 2015 for dirty talk with kids, just for their own gratification or arousal, without intent to harm, can be released. The court calls it the right to “free speech”. State Representative Tony Dale, Republican of Cedar Park, says, “It’s outrageous. But the court did give the legislature guidance on how to fix the law and make it constitutional.” Dale co-sponsored a 2015 bill that does tighten the law, but there are still limits. Dale explains, “If they’re trying to set up a meeting we can go after that now. Once they start doing the kind of communication that says they want to do certain acts with them that’s when police can get involved and start going after these people.”

At the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, they get thousands of tips about cyber exploitation of kids, they review millions of pornographic images sent to children, and they are seeing a big jump in that sort of behavior. Asked why, Executive Regional Director Andrea Sparks says, “I don’t know, that’s the million dollar question. We’re just in awe of it, it is so easy now to access kids.” So what’s a mom or dad to do? Sparks advises, “They need to supervise their children’s activity online. They need to monitor it. They need to assure their kids that if something makes them feel sad, scared, confused, they can come and talk to their parents.”

Taking a deeper look at the problem, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children operates a hotline for lost kids and they have helped police recover 215,000 missing children. Their cyber tipline has received more than 6.6-million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation, and since it has been set up it has examined more than 153-million suspected images of child porn. They say the problem just keeps getting worse.

To report a missing child you can call 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). To report potential predators online, you can write cybertipline.com.

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