Child grooming will be a crime in Texas under measures approved by the state Senate to combat the increasingly pervasive evil of sexually exploiting and trafficking children.

Grooming refers to an act of deliberately establishing a connection with a child in an attempt to subject them to sexual abuse or human trafficking.

New anti-grooming provisions in Senate Bill 1527 by State Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston) and Senate Bill 1562 by State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R–North Richland Hills) increase state and local officials’ authority to investigate, prosecute, and prevent child sex trafficking.

The bills create a criminal offense for an adult who intentionally acts or attempts to coerce, entice, induce, or persuade a child younger than 18 years of age to engage in sexual activity or conduct that constitutes a criminal sexual act on the part of the adult, or who makes a child a party to a sex crime.

Child grooming will be a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Proponents say the anti-grooming measures will provide law enforcement with a “critical tool” in the battle against the sexual exploitation of children.

Child grooming is already a federal offense, known officially as coercion and enticement, with a penalty of 10 years to life in prison.

Making child grooming a state offense as well allows state and local law enforcement to prevent child sex trafficking by arresting traffickers for grooming activities before trafficking has occurred.

Both bills codify legislative recommendations from the state’s Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force.

Task force recommendations are aimed at strengthening state and local efforts to “prevent human trafficking, protect and assist human trafficking victims, curb economic markets that facilitate human trafficking, and investigate and prosecute human trafficking offenders.”

SB 1527 also expands the size and scope of the task force, increases penalties for certain sex trafficking and child pornography crimes, allows more evidence to be considered during prosecutions, and adds protections for trafficking victims.

While the bills don’t mention grooming in schools, education advocate Deborah Simmons told the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice that classroom conversations about sex are desensitizing children and enticing them into sexual behavior.

“We want there to be a deterrent,” Simmons said, testifying in favor of SB 1562. “There are definitely groomers in the schools.”

SB 1527 unanimously passed the Senate on Wednesday and was sent to the House, where it awaits referral to a committee for another public hearing. SB 1562 passed the Senate on Thursday.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.

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