Tennessee Sexual Battery and Rape Laws

Sexual battery and rape crimes carry stiff felony penalties in Tennessee.

By , Attorney

Tennessee divides sexual assaults into two main offenses: sexual battery and rape. Both involve unlawful sexual acts when the victim doesn't consent, can't consent, or is forced to consent. Sexual battery involves unlawful sexual contact with another's intimate parts or the clothing covering one's intimate parts. Rape involves unlawful sexual penetration, however slight, and includes vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

The penalties vary depending on the conduct involved. On top of facing felony penalties, a person may have to register as a sex offender. This article will review the definitions and penalties for sexual battery and rape offenses in Tennessee.

What Are the Penalties for Sexual Battery in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, sexual battery involves unlawful sexual contact with another's intimate parts. This contact may involve the defendant touching a victim's intimate parts or making the victim touch the defendant's intimate parts. The penalties for sexual battery depend on several factors, including the age of the victim and the circumstances of the offense.

Sexual Battery: Crime and Penalty

Unlawful sexual contact accomplished by force, coercion, or fraud or without the other's knowing consent is sexual battery. A person can also commit sexual battery when sexual contact occurs in the following situations:

  • the defendant knows the victim is mentally impaired, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, or
  • the defendant is providing professional services to a victim for a mental, emotional, or physical condition (such as a clergy member, doctor, or therapist).

The crime of sexual battery is a Class E felony, punishable by one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Aggravated Sexual Battery: Crime and Penalty

Unlawful sexual conduct becomes aggravated sexual battery when any of the following circumstances are involved:

  • the victim was younger than 13
  • the defendant caused bodily injury to the victim
  • the defendant was armed with a weapon or led the victim to believe so, or
  • the defendant was aided or abetted by another person.

A person convicted of aggravated sexual battery faces Class B felony penalties and 8 to 30 years in prison.

What Are the Penalties for Rape in Tennessee?

Tennessee divides rape offenses into five categories: rape, aggravated rape, child rape, aggravated child rape, and statutory rape.

Rape: Crime and Penalty

Rape involves unlawful sexual penetration accomplished by force, coercion, or fraud or without the victim's consent.

It can also involve situations where the defendant knows the victim is:

  • mentally impaired, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, or
  • a vulnerable adult with an intellectual disability.

Rape is a Class B felony, punishable by 8 to 30 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

Aggravated Rape: Crime and Penalty

If the crime of rape involves any of the following circumstances, the person faces a Class A felony for aggravated rape:

  • the defendant caused bodily injury to the victim
  • the defendant was armed with a weapon or led the victim to believe so, or
  • the defendant was aided or abetted by another person.

A person convicted of aggravated rape faces Class A felony penalties of 15 to 60 years in prison.

Child Rape and Aggravated Child Rape: Crimes and Penalties

Sexual penetration with a child younger than 13 is considered child rape, and the penalties are severe. The act alone is enough to be convicted. The prosecutor doesn't need to prove force or coercion.

Child rape. If the victim is older than 8 but younger than 13, the crime is a Class A felony. The judge must punish the offender as a Range II or III offender. (The higher the range is, the longer the sentence will be.) The law prohibits parole for child rapists.

Aggravated child rape. If the child is eight or younger, the person commits aggravated rape of a child. An adult convicted of this crime faces a mandatory sentence of life without parole. A juvenile offender faces a Class A felony conviction and a Range III sentence.

Statutory Rape: Crime and Penalties

In Tennessee, a child younger than 18 is deemed incapable of consenting to sex due to their age. Penalties for statutory rape apply when one of the parties is 13 to 17 years older and the other party is at least four years older. To learn more, check out Tennessee Statutory Rape Laws.

Sex Offender Registration in Tennessee

Anyone convicted of any classification of rape or sexual battery must register as a sex offender. Juvenile offenders adjudicated of aggravated sexual battery and any rape offense must also register. Registration requirements may last for a certain number of years or up to life depending on the offense and the offender's criminal history. Failure to register as required can mean additional criminal penalties.

Defenses to a Charge of Sexual Battery or Rape

Defendants charged with sexual battery or rape 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. A defendant may claim mistake of age for certain offenses if the defendant's belief was reasonable. The law does not allow mistake-of-age defense for aggravated sexual battery and rape of a child.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you are facing rape or sexual battery charges, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices 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 your case.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-11-502; 39-13-501, -502, -503, -504, -505, -506, -522, -523, -527, -531, -532; 40-39-202, -212 (2021).)

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