Under Tennessee law, a victim of statutory rape can be considered an accomplice in the crime against her, says The Tennessean. The state Supreme Court has agreed to take on a case involving a 14-year-old girl from Arkansas and a Memphis man, which could lead it to dust off and possibly overturn the arcane interpretation of the law. The rule, which has gone unchallenged for more than a century, emerged from an 1895 incest case in which a Tennessee court found no “evidence of force” in a case involving an uncle having sex with his niece. The court said both could be convicted of incest.
To have such an interpretation on the books in the 21st century is an outrage, some say. “We cannot expect victims to feel safe enough to break free and seek relief when they face the prospect of being victimized again by our legal system,” said Cathy Gurley of You Have the Power, a victims’ rights organization. The rule, she said, “undermines society’s obligation to protect children.” The high court expressed interest in the thorny questions raised by the case: Can the victim of a sexual offense be a criminal accomplice? If so, do prosecutors need supporting evidence beyond an accomplice’s testimony to convict a defendant? Both questions, say legal experts, have far-reaching implications for how sex crimes are prosecuted in Tennessee.