Juvenile Law

Juvenile law is something that parents don’t often think to talk to their students about, but there are a few things that we, at Crime Stoppers, feel all students (and parents) need to be aware of. First of all, we are not lawyers, nor do we claim to be, but we do work with student all day, every day.

Through presenting to students regularly, we have found that students are often very confused, and even misinformed about the legal system. Because of that we want to encourage parents to research laws that pertain to the specific county you reside in so that you can begin having critical conversations about juvenile laws with your students. When talking with your students about juvenile laws it is important to remember that in the state of Texas, 17 is the legal age of adulthood. This means that 17 is when you can enter the adult legal system and is when you can go to adult jail/prison. It is also vital to approach conversations with the understanding that when it comes to juveniles, judges have a lot of say in what a student’s punishment or sentence will be. Because of that, it is really difficult to identify a specific punishment or expected sentence. Every juvenile case truly is different.

Age Affecting Criminal Responsibility

The age of affecting criminal responsibility in the state of Texas, as stated in Texas Penal Code 8.07, is 15. However, if you are between the ages of 10 and 15, the judge in your case CAN decide that you knew what you were doing was bad when you did it, and therefore you can be charged for whatever crime you committed. To us here at Crime Stoppers, and the way we like to message this law, is that at 10 you are eligible to have legal consequences for your actions. Meaning, if you are 10 or older, in the state of Texas, a judge CAN decide to charge you with a crime as a consequence for what you said or did in person or online.

Child Pornography

With that said, one of the biggest topics we get questions about when we are out presenting is what are the laws surrounding inappropriate pictures. Students are shocked to find out that they can get arrested simply for having an inappropriate image on their device. The laws about these kinds of images, which are considered child pornography, in the state of Texas, can get a bit confusing. Texas Penal Code 43.26 says:

“A person commits an offense if the person knowingly or intentionally possesses, or knowingly or intentionally accesses with intent to view, visual material that…depicts a child younger than 18 years of age…who is engaging in sexual conduct, including a child who engages in sexual conduct as a victim of an offense…”

Essentially what that means is that it is illegal to knowingly have a naked, partially naked, or even suggestive of being naked image/video of anyone under the age of 18 on ANY device. That kind of leads us right into the next part of this law. If you continue to read the penal code it gets very long and confusing so we won’t get too much more into that, but we do always encourage you to read the codes for yourself and to again, do your own research about the laws in your county. The next part of the law is the part that typically truly shocks students. What you and your student(s) need to know is this it is illegal for someone under the age of 18 to take an inappropriate picture of themselves or anyone else who is under 18. That is called creating child pornography. It is illegal for anyone to knowingly have an inappropriate picture of them or anyone else under 18 – that is possession of child pornography, and it is illegal to pass along an inappropriate picture of anyone under the age of 18 – that is called distribution of child pornography. Now, while all forms of child pornography are illegal, typically what we see is that distribution of child pornography gets a much heftier sentence than creating or possessing child pornography does.

There are so many other laws that are valuable for students and parent to know and discuss regularly. We hope the laws referenced here will spark conversation in your household, and that you will be encouraged to find out more about how to protect yourself and your student from ever entering the legal system.

Camping Safety

As the summer vacation looms, and you’re looking for family-friendly, cost-effective, and local or wilderness sites, please consider your Texas State Parks. Families who play outside are healthier, happier, and smarter. There are lots of options close to your home for a great stay-cation! With a variety of environments, amenities, and activities, you can play for the day or enjoy the summer evenings in many Houston area State Parks.

Camping is a great way to explore and immerse your family in the fun of our special areas in the state. We invite you to come to your Texas State Parks (90+ options) and overnight in a tent, RV, shelter, or cabin with adventures for all skill levels.

New to camping? Sign up for a Texas Outdoor Family workshop in the Houston area, run in the fall and spring seasons. You and your family will learn the basic outdoor skills needed to enjoy a great camping trip. No experience is necessary!

Camping Safety

Whether you decide to try it out on your own, or want to join our Texas Outdoor Family program, you may want to keep some of the basic camping safety in mind for the best experience during your next overnight trip:

  • Keep watch on children! You are responsible for the safety of youth, so make sure you know where your kids’ area and what they are doing.
  • Be aware of the natural surroundings. There may be plants with thorns or stickers.
  • You are a visitor in wildlife’s home. Keep a safe distance from wild animals. Although they may look cute, they are wild and can carry disease.
  • Never feed the wildlife! Feeding wildlife can encourage bad behavior by animals and is against park regulations.
  • Be careful with fire. Never leave a fire unattended and be sure your campfire is out when you break camp.
  • Axes, knives and saws are useful tools, but be sure you know how to properly use them.

Camping Etiquette

Courteous behavior makes camping more fun for everyone.

  • Please think about your fellow campers. Keep noise levels down, especially at night.
  • Leave the area clean. Pick up your trash and make sure to check the area for items you may have forgotten.
  • Keep food out of the reach of animals. Put food items away after use. Raccoons and other animals will take advantage of your carelessness.
  • Dispose of wastewater properly. Dumping gray water can pollute waterways and attract unwanted pests.
  • Camp in designated campsites. Use a tent pad if provided and keep vehicles on the pavement.
  • Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.

We hope you come visit and enjoy your beautiful Texas State Parks soon. Check out our TPWD website for more camping options, park details, or special events near you. Life’s Better Outside!

Choosing Safe Summer Experiences for Youth

As we enter a summer season, there is much excitement to be had for kids of all ages during these summer months. Many of us agree that it is the best time of the year, and have positive memories from summer adventures. While parents and families are seeking engaging, character building, AND fun activities for their kids, it’s important to consider “safety” on that list of essential criteria.

When it comes to safety, there are some common practices that readily come to mind: maintaining safety around water and swimming pools, wearing helmets and protective gear during sports or games, reapplying sunscreen regularly and staying hydrated in the Texas heat. These are examples of basic and important habits to establish and reinforce so that kids have positive memories, rather than injuries, from summer experiences.

There is another realm of child safety that all caregivers should also be paying attention to this summer: child protection and, more specifically, child sexual abuse prevention. In reality, 1 out of 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Read that again: ONE out of TEN. 90% of abused children know their abuser, so it is important that we understand how to create safe environments for youth to have caring and appropriate relationships with adults and other youth. The good news is, this type of abuse IS preventable, and there are excellent resources for parents and youth serving professionals to know, see, and respond to the signs of sexual abuse.

When making a choice about the camps, summer events, or activities a child will attend, it’s important for caregivers to ask the right questions. Youth serving organizations should be ready and willing to talk about the measures they take to prevent child sexual abuse. Below are five straightforward questions to start the conversation, adapted from Darkness to Light.

  1. Is there a child protection policy?
  2. Does the policy include limiting isolated, one-on-one situations?
  3. How are employees AND volunteers screen and trained?
  4. Do older and younger children interact, and if so, how?
  5. Are there clear procedures for reporting rule breaking, suspicions, or incidences of abuse?

If you don’t like the answers you receive to any of these questions, it’s time to explore other summertime opportunities. You would not allow your child to play on broken playground equipment, ride in a car without a seatbelt or child seat, or have access to poisonous substances. As adults, keeping kids safe includes getting out of our comfort zones and making courageous decisions.

For children not enrolled in formal youth-serving programs, parents still have an opportunity to put safety measures in place. Check out summer sleepover tips, general steps to protecting kids, and guidance for talking to children about boundaries and appropriate relationships at Darkness to Light, Crime Stoppers of Houston, the Children’s Assessment Center of Houston, and other great resources.  Whether at the waterpark, on family vacation, planning a neighborhood sleepover, or attending sporting events, all adults can step up to prevent abuse this summer. The children in our lives, and in our broader communities, deserve it.

Baby Boomers are reaching the age of Maturity

Elder abuse is becoming more and more prevalent especially as the baby boomers reach the age of 65 years. As the population grows so does the instances of abuse. Statistics reveal that approximately 5 million elderly people are abused each year and it is estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to the authorities according to Adult Protective Services. The elderly is subjected to various forms of abuse such as physical, emotional/verbal and sexual ill-treatment. It is determined that perpetrators of abuse are usually family members. As elder abuse becomes more blatant so should the systematic responses to conquering the nationwide epidemic.

The media often spotlights abuse as a prevalent problem in society today, and often it is specific to abuse against children. There are many government and private organizations devoted to preventing child abuse and helping its’ current victims. However, this is not the only abuse occurring that merits attention. Abuse also effects a different demographic of people; the elderly. While the abuse effecting children is acknowledged, it may appear that many people are not as familiar with abuse of the elderly. Subsequently there are fewer organizations to assist. Abuse of the elderly does not discriminate as it is both genders, all cultures, all ethnicities, and all socioeconomic classes. There are three main types of elder abuse; physical, verbal/emotional, and sexual abuse. Each form of abuse has signs, rising prevalence in society, and not enough social awareness or community support. It is predicted that by 2030, when the first baby boomer reaches the mature age of 84, the number of Americans over 65 will be tripled. Essentially, more than 20 percent of the population will be over the age of 65, and as the elderly population grows, the crimes against them are expected to exponentially rise in incidence and prevalence. Elder abuse is becoming one of the fastest growing crimes in society and is also one of the most underreported and misunderstood. This is because elders do not want to report nor do they want to be a part of the process. Many elderly adults are abused in their own homes, or while they are residing in the home of relatives who are supposed to be caring from them in their time of need. As the elderly become older and weaker their ability to stand up or fight back, if attacked, becomes greatly diminished. There are indicators of physical abuse such as; unexplained broken bones, cuts, punctures, burns, bruises and welts wherein, other common indicators include, broken eye glasses with no reasonable explanation or signs of being restrained, such as marks around the wrist. Members of the community may be able to recognize these warning signs of abuse if properly educated on what to look for. This is not to state that all injuries the elderly sustain constitutes abuse. Per Adult Protective Services data the Houston district received 21,575 reported cases of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation in FY 2018 wherein of those 11,567 cases were validated for some type of maltreatment against the elderly and disabled.

As elder abuse becomes more prominent, so do the systematic responses to conquering this nationwide epidemic. The primary source of response to allegations of abuse against the elderly in Texas is Adult Protective Services. There are social service agencies with a comprehensive understanding of this growing, and prevalent problem, and much room for expansion of these services. The response to elder abuse is most effective when it is a collaborative effort by all social service agencies, criminal justice systems, health care providers and the community. The elderly population deserves to live their retirement years with dignity and there are many that cannot do it alone.

Teen Dating Violence

When we think of February, I think of love… hearts… red and pink… all things Valentine’s Day, right?  Yes!  But, in that mist of all things ‘relationship,’ we fail to give light to those in unhealthy and often abusive situations.  As such, it’s vital to note that February serves as the designated awareness month for Teen Dating Violence and we proudly wear the color orange in support of teen survivors.

A staggering 1 in 3 teens will experience a form of abuse in a dating relationship.  Defined as the physical, psychological, emotional, and/or sexual violence occurring either in person or electronically, teen dating violence is a rampant issue in our community.  More important to bring attention to is the notion that only 33% of teens in abusive relationship ever tell about the abuse they are experiencing!

Being a teen is not easy!  So many coming-of-age challenges and social pressures make life hard for teens in both their real and online lives.  And, while our teens need us more than ever to help them through this challenging time, they are also seeking independence and turning to peers. Although it may seem easier to let a teen “ghost” you, hang on and start some of those difficult conversations about healthy relationships.  Below are some tips (adapted from Futures Without Violence) to start that chat:

  • Encourage open, honest and thoughtful reflection. Talk openly with young teens about healthy relationships. Allow them to articulate his or her values and expectations for healthy relationships. Rather than dismissing ideas as “wrong”, encourage debate —this helps young people come to his or her own understanding.
  • Understand teen development. Adolescence is all about experimentation. From mood swings to risk taking, “normal teenage behavior” can appear anything-but-normal. New research, however, reveals that brain development during these formative years play a significant role in young teen’s personality and actions. Knowing what’s “normal” is critical to helping you better understand and guide young people.
  • Understand the pressure and the risk teen’s face. Preteens and young teens face new and increasing pressures about sex, substance abuse and dating. Time and time again, young teens express their desire to have parents/role models take the time to listen to them and help them think through the situations they face – be that person!
  • Make the most of “teachable moments.” Use TV episodes, movies, music lyrics, news, community events or the experiences of friends to discuss healthy and unhealthy relationships.
  • Be prepared to make mistakes. You will make mistakes. Accept that you will make mistakes, but continue to help teens make responsible choices while trying to maintain that delicate balance of being sensitive, but firm.

For more info or support, please call the 24/7 HAWC hotline at 713.528.2121