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State to Form Sexual Assault ResponseTeams

This information comes from 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley, MD, R-Hohenwald, who represents Giles, Lewis, Marshall, Maury and part of Williamson counties.

Hensley explains some of the legislation passed during the recently completed session.

Creating Sexual Assault Response Teams - On Jan. 1, 2024, law enforcement agencies in Tennessee must begin forming a sexual assault response team (SART) under a law approved by the General Assembly.

The team will help identify gaps in service and improve response systems for adult sexual assault victims in the agency’s jurisdiction.

Each team can include members who respond to and work with victims and possess expertise in disciplines relevant to sexual assault response.

Those members may include victim advocates, law enforcement, criminal prosecutors, healthcare service providers and mental health service providers.

Each SART may meet in person, by telephone or virtual means as needed. All communications during the meeting are confidential unless ordered otherwise by a court.

Increasing support for human trafficking victims - To continue the General Assembly’s work to combat human trafficking and support victims, a law adds human trafficking offenses to the list of eligible victims who can receive compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation (CIC) Fund for personal injury or loss incurred as a result of the crime.

The CIC was established as a fund of last resort to financially assist innocent victims of violent crimes in Tennessee that result in personal injury.

Eligible victims and claimants may be reimbursed for medical expenses, loss of wages and other unforeseen costs related to the crime.

The law clarifies that an individual is still eligible for compensation from the fund even if they could not fully cooperate during the investigation and prosecution of the offender if their cooperation was impacted due to their age, physical condition, psychological state, cultural or linguistic barriers or due to other health and safety concerns.

It also removes the requirement that human trafficking victims, or claimants acting on their behalf, must have reported the offense to law enforcement within 48 hours.

Stiffening penalties for rape and incest of a minor – This law ensures criminals convicted of rape of a minor will be punished no less than a Range II, or repeat, offender for the Class B felony.

Additionally, the legislation raises the penalty for incest with a minor from a Class C to a Class B felony and also requires the criminal to be punished no less than a Range II offender.

A Range II offense for a Class B felony is punishable by 12 to 20 years in prison. Comparatively, a Range I offense for a Class B felony is punishable by eight to 12 years in prison.

Increasing penalties for aggravated kidnapping and rape - This law enhances the punishment for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape and rape convictions.

It requires sentences for those crimes to be no less than those imposed for a Range II offender.

For aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape, which are Class A felonies, the punishment would be between 25 and 40 years in prison. For rape, which is a Class B felony, the punishment would be 12 to 20 years in prison.

Minimizing trauma of child sexual assault victims in court - The General Assembly passed a law that aims to minimize trauma for underage victims of sexual assault during the criminal justice process.

When a minor is sexually assaulted, a forensic interview must be completed.

These interviews, which are conducted by trained professionals, are recorded so that they may be used in court proceedings.

This law will extend the admissibility of forensic interviews in court for all children under age 18 and allows forensic interviews to cover statements on sexual and physical abuse.

The law also adds an additional qualification for forensic interviewers that increases the credibility of forensic interviews and their admissibility in court. The law helps prevent children from being further traumatized by being required to testify in court in front of their abuser.

Tennessee Businesses Against Trafficking Program – A law establishes the Tennessee Businesses Against Trafficking program to engage corporations and other private entities in voluntary efforts to identify, prevent, and combat human trafficking.

The law requires the Secretary of State to establish a program that includes participating in training, public awareness campaigns, and other measures.

The Secretary of State will work collaboratively with other state agencies and advisory councils to promote the program.

Cracking down on soliciting exploitation of a minor - A law expands the definition of “sexual activity” as used in the offense of soliciting exploitation of a minor to state that any exhibition of an explicit area that can be reasonably construed as being for sexual purposes constitutes sexual activity.

The law further clarifies sexual activity to help law enforcement more easily remove sexual predators from society.

Sen. Hensley may be contacted at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way, N. Suite 742, Nashville, Tenn., 37243 or call 615-741-3100 or call toll free at 1-800-449-8366, Extension 13100 or fax 615-253-0231.

His district address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald Tenn., 38462, or call 931-796-2018, or call his cell phone at 931-212-8823, or E-mail: sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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