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Is spousal rape a crime in Tennessee?

Once upon a time, most people believed that marriage made rape impossible — and the law reflected those notions. When a woman consented to marriage, she unwittingly consented to sex whenever her husband wanted.

That has since changed. Since the early 1990s, the laws in every state have changed to reflect the idea that “no means no” — even when it comes from someone’s spouse.

What does the law say about spousal rape or spousal sexual battery?

Spousal rape occurs whenever there is a forced sexual penetration of one spouse by the other and the aggressor spouse used a weapon (or the threat of a weapon, even an unloaded gun) to coerce the other’s behavior or physically harmed the victim in the process of coercing them. If the spouses are living apart and one has filed for separation or divorce, no weapon or violence is necessary for the charge to stick. Spousal rape is charged as a Class C felony.

If there’s no penetration, you can still be charged with spousal sexual battery under the same circumstances, but the charge is reduced to a Class D felony. It’s important to remember that sexual battery, however, can be as simple as putting your hand on someone’s breast or genitalia without their consent.

What should you do if you’re charged with sexual assault on a spouse?

Whatever the exact charges, of course, your situation is serious. All felonies are punishable with time in prison. Plus, merely being charged with a sex crime can be hugely damaging to your reputation and career. A conviction is even worse, since that can lead to public registration as a sex offender. The smart move, now, is to seek an experienced defender right away.