In Texas, there are some sexual assaults you can’t go to jail for committing.
Nonpenetration sexual assault, or “groping,” of someone 17 or older is only considered a class C misdemeanor – the least severe crime category under current state law.
Lawmakers could potentially change this statute when the 86th legislative session convenes Jan. 8.
State Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody (D-El Paso) introduced House Bill 309 to create the offense and assign it a Class A misdemeanor status, which means those convicted could serve up to a year in jail and be fined up to $4,000.
State Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) introduced a similar bill called Senate Bill 194.
In both versions, indecent assault is defined as touching a person’s genitals without their consent with the intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire.
“Sexual assault is often denied or even minimized,” said Ginny Stafford, executive director of Mid-Coast Family Services in Victoria.
Still, Stafford said she continues to be amazed and concerned that groping in Texas is considered such a minor offense. “We hoped it would come up last session, but the bathroom bill crowded everything else out.”
This kind of sex crime is equivalent to a traffic ticket and carries no possibility of jail time even for repeat offenses or assaults against vulnerable individuals, according to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault’s legislative agenda.
Texas is one of only six states to treat these sexual assaults so leniently, said the association’s policy director, Chris Kaiser.
The group proposed in a 2016 newsletter that the Texas Penal Code should be amended to create a new criminal offense called indecent assault.
In the group’s publication, Kaiser mentions a case that happened in Victoria reported by the Advocate that brought attention to the limitations in the law on groping.
A massage therapist was reported for assaulting women, but it wasn’t until he was reported for penetration that he saw real consequences.
Amid allegations of groping a customer’s breasts and genitals in 2013, Charles H. “Hank” Krebs Jr. voluntarily surrendered his massage therapist license in 2015.
He pleaded no contest and was fined $387 in municipal court for a different misdemeanor.
However, Krebs continued to practice in Victoria County without a license and assaulted another woman in 2016.
He was convicted of sexual assault that year for the assault and was given a $10,000 fine and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Krebs is eligible for parole in 2026, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The association believes creating the indecent assault statute would give police and prosecutors a better tool to address crimes as well as acknowledge that these acts are serious sexual violence.
Stafford said Mid-Coast Family Services served 102 sexual assault survivors last year. But statistics show that more than 90 percent of sexual assault incidents are not reported.
Mid-Coast provides crisis and professional counseling, accompaniment for medical exams and legal proceedings, legal advocacy, emergency shelter and transitional housing for survivors in the region, she said.
Stafford said while she doesn’t do counseling, she talked with a woman about her weekend experience of being fondled by a man.
“She tried to report him but learned that since it’s not illegal, there’s nothing to be done,” Stafford recalled. “She was humiliated, mad and powerless over this person who violated her.”