One of the 2016 presidential candidates has been in the news regarding allegations of groping women and sexual misconduct. Under Tennessee sex crimes laws, is it unlawful to grope or kiss a woman without their permission ?

The American Bar Association published an article on the topic. It caused me to think whether groping would be illegal in Tennessee. First, lets discuss unwanted kissing. Unwanted kissing is not a sex crime under Tennessee law. However, it could be considered a simple assault. Here is the legal definition of simple assault in Tennessee



(a)  A person commits assault who:

     (1)  Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another;

     (2)  Intentionally or knowingly causes another to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury; or

     (3)  Intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another and a reasonable person would regard the contact as extremely offensive or provocative.

Unwanted kissing could be considered provocative conduct.


Let’s turn to whether unwanted groping is a sex crime. From reading Tennessee’s law on sexual battery it seems to fit. Here is the definition of sexual battery in Tennessee.

39-13-505. Sexual battery.


(a)  Sexual battery is unlawful sexual contact with a victim by the defendant or the defendant by a victim accompanied by any of the following circumstances:

     (1)  Force or coercion is used to accomplish the act;

     (2)  The sexual contact is accomplished without the consent of the victim and the defendant knows or has reason to know at the time of the contact that the victim did not consent;

     (3)  The defendant knows or has reason to know that the victim is mentally defective, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless; or

     (4)  The sexual contact is accomplished by fraud. 

Next we have to look at the key definitions of the statute.

39-13-501. Definitions.


As used in §§ 39-13-501 39-13-511, except as specifically provided in § 39-13-505, unless the context otherwise requires:

     (1)  “Coercion” means threat of kidnapping, extortion, force or violence to be performed immediately or in the future or the use of parental, custodial, or official authority over a child less than fifteen (15) years of age;

     (2)  “Intimate parts” includes the primary genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttock or breast of a human being;

     (3)  “Mentally defective” means that a person suffers from a mental disease or defect which renders that person temporarily or permanently incapable of appraising the nature of the person’s conduct;

     (4)  “Mentally incapacitated” means that a person is rendered temporarily incapable of appraising or controlling the person’s conduct due to the influence of a narcotic, anesthetic or other substance administered to that person without the person’s consent, or due to any other act committed upon that person without the person’s consent;

     (5)  “Physically helpless” means that a person is unconscious, asleep or for any other reason physically or verbally unable to communicate unwillingness to do an act;

     (6)  “Sexual contact” includes the intentional touching of the victim’s, the defendant’s, or any other person’s intimate parts, or the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the victim’s, the defendant’s, or any other person’s intimate parts, if that intentional touching can be reasonably construed as being for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification;

     (7)  “Sexual penetration” means sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, or any other intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body or of any object into the genital or anal openings of the victim’s, the defendant’s, or any other person’s body, but emission of semen is not required; and

     (8)  “Victim” means the person alleged to have been subjected to criminal sexual conduct and includes the spouse of the defendant.



It appears to be clear that unwanted groping is a crime under Tennessee law. One key thing is the context of the contact. In a dating relationship, one may be under the impression they have consent while the other did not feel that way. It may be a slippery slope in future cases in what is consent. Can it be implied based on the circumstances ? That is a question for another day.