South Carolina Sexual Battery Laws

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Assault and battery (which includes called rape, “sexual battery” or “sexual assault”) is illegal in South Carolina, and punished as a felony. The circumstances of the offense determine the level of felony, which in turn determine the penalties that apply to the crime.

When it comes to rape, the law strives to protect strangers, acquaintances, and married people equally. In South Carolina, as in all states, there is no exception or defense to prosecution for assault or rape that occurs within a marriage (to learn more about marital rape laws in South Carolina, see Marital Rape in South Carolina).

Sexual Assault and Battery

In South Carolina, sexual assault and battery occurs when someone compels a victim to engage in unlawful sexual contact against the victim’s will, and includes nonconsensual touching of the genitals (or female breasts)—whether over or under the clothing—with increased penalties applicable to crimes that cause great bodily injury.

(S.C. Code of Laws § 16-3-600.)

Penalties

Rape is a felony in South Carolina, and the applicable fines and prison term depend on the circumstances of the crime.

Assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature occurs when the crime causes great bodily injury (or was accomplished by means likely to do so). Penalties include a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Assault and battery of the first degree occurs when the crime causes injury during unwanted sexual touching, or when the sexual battery occurred during the commission of certain other crimes. It also includes circumstances when injury was likely due to the nature of the battery, even if no physical injury occurred. Penalties include up to ten years in prison.

Assault and battery in the second degree includes crimes that include a moderate physical injury (or attempt to injure) during unwanted sexual touching. Penalties include a fine of up to $2,500, up to three years in prison, or both.

(S.C. Code of Laws § 16-3-600.)

Defenses to a Charge of Sexual Assault and Battery

Defendants charged with sexual assault and battery have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, starting with “Someone else committed this crime.”

A defendant can also claim that the sexual activity was consensual. In a sexual assault and battery case, there can be significant questions about what constitutes consent or what constitutes refusal. This has led to the infamous question of when does “No” mean “No”? Does the word constitute a lack of consent as soon as it is spoken, or must the victim object more vigorously?

Another possible defense is an insanity plea, in which the defense argues that the accused is mentally ill and did not have the capacity to control his behavior, to form criminal intent or to understand what he was doing or that his actions were unlawful.

See a Lawyer

If you are facing a sexual assault and battery charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. Numerous defenses apply to sexual assault charges, and a lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case.

A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or a reduction in penalties (such as, for example, probation instead of prison time); and will know how prosecutors and judges typically handle cases like yours. 

Help for Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors

If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.

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