South Carolina Sexual Battery Laws

In South Carolina, a person convicted of criminal sexual conduct or sexual assault and battery can face serious criminal penalties, including lengthy terms of imprisonment and substantial fines.

By , Attorney

South Carolina law makes it illegal to engage in sexual acts with another person who hasn't consented, can't consent, or is coerced. People who engage in unlawful sexual misconduct against another can be charged with criminal sexual conduct or sexual assault and battery. (South Carolina doesn't use the term "rape.")

This article will review the definitions and penalties for the crimes of criminal sexual conduct and sexual assault and battery in South Carolina.

What Are the Penalties for Criminal Sexual Conduct in South Carolina?

South Carolina makes criminal sexual conduct a felony, and the applicable fines and prison terms depend on the circumstances of the crime. The law provides for three degrees of this type of sexual misconduct. All the offenses involve nonconsensual "sexual battery," which includes sexual intercourse, sexual penetration (however slight), and anal or oral sex.

First-Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct

Criminal sexual conduct in the first degree occurs when the offender engages in sexual battery with the victim and one or more of the following circumstances exists:

  • the defendant used aggravated physical force or violence or threatened the use of a deadly weapon
  • the victim submitted to the act under circumstances of forcible confinement, kidnapping, trafficking, robbery, extortion, burglary, housebreaking, or a similar offense, or
  • the defendant drugged the victim without consent, leaving the victim mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.

First-degree criminal sexual conduct constitutes a felony, which carries up to 30 years in prison.

Second-Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct

A person commits criminal sexual conduct in the second degree by coercing a victim to engage in sexual battery through the use of credible threats of force or violence of a high and aggravated nature. This felony subjects a guilty defendant to up to 20 years in prison.

Third-Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct

A defendant is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree by engaging in sexual battery with the victim:

  • through the use of force or coercion (absent any other aggravating circumstances), or
  • when knowing or having reason to know the victim was mentally or physically incapacitated.

Third-degree criminal sexual conduct carries up to 10 years in prison for a guilty party.

Spousal Sexual Battery

Spousal sexual battery involves one spouse committing sexual battery through the use of aggravated force against the other spouse. Aggravated force includes the use or threat of use of a weapon or physical force or violence of a high and aggravated nature. This felony conviction subjects an offender to up to ten years in prison.

What Are the Penalties for Sexual Assault and Battery?

Although most assault and battery charges in South Carolina do not constitute sex-related crimes, those that involve unwanted sexual touching are charged as sexual assault and battery. The law provides for varying degrees of sexual assault and battery.

First-Degree Sexual Assault and Battery

First-degree sexual assault and battery occurs when a defendant injures a victim when touching their private parts (under or above the clothing) without consent and with lewd and lascivious intent. Private parts include the genital area or buttocks of both sexes and the breasts of a female. The penalty for such behavior is up to ten years in prison.

Second-Degree Sexual Assault and Battery

A person commits second-degree sexual assault and battery by unlawfully injuring another person or attempting to do so, and the act involves nonconsensual touching of the private parts of that person (under or above clothing). This offense does not require a harmful intent. Such conduct results in a misdemeanor charge, which carries up to three years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Defenses to a Sex Crime Charge in South Carolina

Defendants charged with sex-related crimes have some potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.

Actual innocence. Defendants charged with criminal sexual conduct or sexual assault and battery have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."

Consent. Consent as a defense applies only when the victim gives it freely and has the physical, mental, and legal capacity to consent. Legal capacity refers to crimes based on a victim's young age. For these crimes, defendants cannot claim consent as a defense. South Carolina's age of consent is 16 years old. To learn about criminal sexual conduct with a minor, read South Carolina's Statutory Rape Laws.

Marital exemption. A person cannot be guilty of either criminal sexual conduct or assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct if they are the spouse of the victim, unless they are living apart and the unlawful act constitutes criminal sexual conduct in the first or second degree. A married victim must report spousal sexual battery within 30 days of the offense or the married offender cannot be charged.

Sex Offender Registration in South Carolina

South Carolina's Sex Offender Registry Act requires anyone convicted of a criminal sexual conduct offense to register as a sex offender for life. Failure to register results in additional criminal charges. A first offense constitutes a misdemeanor carrying penalties of up to 365 days of incarceration and a $1,000 fine. A second offense, although still considered a misdemeanor, requires 365 days in prison. A third or subsequent offense results in a felony conviction, which carries a penalty of five years in prison.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you face charges for a sex crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution's case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to the unique circumstances of your case. A knowledgeable attorney can also advise you on how the law will apply to your set of facts.

(S.C. Code §§ 16-3-600, -615, -651, -652, -653, -654; 23-3-430, -470 (2021).)

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to a Sex Crime attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you