Deshaun Watson allegations highlight Texas’ lax punishment for unwanted sexual contact | #College. | #Students



As the Houston Police Department investigates at least one criminal complaint against Deshaun Watson, a review of the allegations made in civil court against the Texans quarterback show police could be limited to pursuing misdemeanor charges for all but a few serious accusations.

More than half of the 22 women suing Watson say he made sexual contact without their consent. In Texas, that’s a misdemeanor in criminal court, on par with burglary of a vehicle or property theft between $750 and $2,500.

Two plaintiffs allege that Watson either forced or coerced fellatio — a second degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

It’s unclear which massage therapist filed a criminal complaint with the Houston Police Department. Watson has not been criminally charged and he’s denied any wrongdoing.

Texas lags behind some states in punishing offenders in cases of sexual assault that don’t rise to the level of rape. The Houston Chronicle analyzed a database of sex crimes laws across all 50 states compiled by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. It found that unwanted sexual contact described in more than half the lawsuits — where there is no penetration involved — is a felony in more than a dozen of them, but not in Texas.

Experts say classifying what Watson is accused of doing as misdemeanor indecent assault minimizes the seriousness of such crimes and discourages victims from coming forward.

Attorney Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, left, reads a statement by a message therapist who sued Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Yi-Chin Lee, MBO / Associated Press

“The gravity of indecent assault or indecent acts can vary so substantially,” said Geoffrey S. Corn, South Texas College of Law Houston’s Gary A. Kuiper Distinguished Professor of National Security Law. “Compelling someone to touch your genitals or touching them with your genitals is a much more aggravated crime” than grabbing someone’s buttocks.

Since March, nearly two dozen women have sued Watson, alleging that the 25-year-old quarterback harassed and assaulted them during massage therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021 in Houston, Arizona, California and Georgia.

Thirteen of the women say that Watson touched them with his penis or ejaculated on them during sessions without their consent. In Texas, unwanted sexual contact amounts to a misdemeanor charge.

In a news conference last week, Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said his client did have sexual relations with massage therapists during some sessions, but that it was consensual.

“In some of these massages there’s going to be no question — we’ve never run from it, our first announcement has always been about consent — that on some occasions some active sexual activity would have taken place,” Hardin said. “I’m not going into what it is, the nature or the numbers, or with whom, but I think you can rightfully assume, what we have always been emphasizing, that never at any time, under any circumstances did this young man ever engage in anything that was not mutually desired by the other party.”

Other states impose harsher punishments than Texas. In Utah, for example, forcible sex abuse — touching a person’s anus, buttock, pubic area or any part of someone’s genitals, or touches a female’s breasts — is a second-degree felony punishable by one to 15 years in prison.

Alaska classifies non-consensual sexual contact as sexual assault in the second degree, a class B felony. It’s punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Ashley Solis, second right, the first woman to file sexual assault claims against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, gives a statement during a news conference with attorney Tony Buzbee and his legal team, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Houston.
Ashley Solis, second right, the first woman to file sexual assault claims against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, gives a statement during a news conference with attorney Tony Buzbee and his legal team, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Houston.

Yi-Chin Lee, MBO / Associated Press





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