Tennessee Marital Rape Laws

Just like rape between strangers or acquaintances, marital rape—rape that occurs between spouses—is illegal in Tennessee, and punished as a felony.

And other kinds of spousal abuse are also illegal in Tennessee, and are often charged under the state’s Battery laws. To learn more about assault laws in Tennessee, see Simple Assault in Tennessee, and Tennessee Aggravated Assault Laws.

For more information about marital rape in general, see The History of Marital Rape and Marital Rape general article.

Marital Rape

In Tennessee, marital rape occurs when one spouse (the defendant) compels the other spouse (the victim) to engage in sexual penetration against the victim’s will, and also includes circumstances when the victim is mentally incapable of giving consent to sex (such as being in a coma or having passed out from drug or alcohol use). The offense is considered aggravated rape if it causes bodily injury to the victim, or if the defendant carried a weapon during the offense or was aided by one or more other people.(Tn. Code Ann. § 39-13-503 & 39-13-502.)

If the offense included unwanted sexual contact (but not penetration), the defendant may be guilty of sexual battery (or aggravated battery if the defendant carried a weapon during the offense or was aided by one or more other people).(Tn. Code Ann. § 39-13-505 & 39-13-504.)

The punishment for rape and battery is the same for spouses who rape and batter as for other offenders, although it may be more difficult for the victim to prove that she didn’t consent to her husband than it would be to prove non-consent with a stranger.


Marital sexual battery and marital rape are felonies, and the applicable fines and prison term depend on the circumstances of the crime.

Marital sexual battery is a Class E felony, which incurs a fine of up to $3,000, at least one (and up to six) years in prison, or both.

Aggravated sexual battery and marital rape are Class B felonies. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, at least eight (and up to 30) years in prison, or both.

Aggravated rape is a Class A felony, which incurs a fine of up to $50,000, at least 15 (and up to 60) years in prison, or both.

See a Lawyer

If you are facing a sexual assault charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. Numerous defenses apply to charges of felony assault 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’s skillful negotiation with the prosecutor can sometimes result in a reduction of charges or a reduction in penalties, such as less prison time, no prison time, probation, and lower fines. A local criminal defense attorney, who knows how the prosecutors and judges involved in your case typically handle such cases, can assist with these negotiations. And if you decide to go to trial, having a good lawyer on your side will be essential.

Help for Rape and Sexual Battery Survivors

If you are a victim of rape or sexual abuse, contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) National Sexual Assault Online Hotline for help and local resources.

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