What Is Third-Degree Rape?

The definition of third-degree rape varies across the United States. In most states, a person is guilty of third-degree rape or sexual assault if they engage in nonconsensual sexual intercourse with someone who can’t consent, such as a physically helpless person, minor, or individual with a mental incapacity or disability.

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In 2020, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of third-degree rape and criminal sexual assault in the first degree. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison. 

This verdict had many people wondering which acts constitute third-degree rape and what differentiates it from first-degree rape?

To fully understand the differences, it’s important to look at which behaviors constitute third-degree rape by state, the emotional impact these behaviors have on rape survivors, and what you can do if you or a loved one have experienced third-degree rape. 

The legal definition of third-degree rape or rape in the third degree varies by state. However, in most states, a person is guilty of third-degree rape if they:

  • Engage in nonconsensual sexual intercourse with someone incapable of consenting, such as:
    • An individual whose mental disability or incapacity renders them incapable of consenting
    • An individual who is physically helpless
  • Are at least 21 years old and have sex with someone who is less than 14 to 17 years old (age varies depending on the state)
  • Are employed at a state correctional facility or similar facility, and they have sexual intercourse, or contact with one of the prisoners
  • Are employed as a peace officer and engage in sexual intercourse with someone in custody
  • Are employed or were recently employed as a teacher and engage in sexual intercourse with a student or former student

In contrast, first-degree rape, or rape in the first degree, generally happens when someone engages in sexual intercourse with someone else by forcible compulsion. For instance, someone commits first-degree rape when they force sex on the other person by:

  • Using or threatening to use a deadly weapon
  • Kidnapping the victim
  • Inflicting serious physical injury to the victim
  • Illegally entering into the vehicle or building where the victim is located

Second-degree rape or rape in the second degree is more similar to third-degree rape. Its exact definition varies from state to state, but it generally involves someone who is at least 18 years old having sex with someone under 14 or 15 years old. Sexual intercourse or contact with someone who is physically helpless and anal, vaginal, or oral intercourse without the lawful consent of the victim may also fall under second-degree rape.

Third-Degree Rape Definitions By State

Not every state uses the designation of third-degree rape. Some states classify third-degree rape as a type of sexual battery or assault. Section 261.5 of California’s Penal Code, for instance, labels nonconsensual intercourse with a minor as “unlawful sexual intercourse.” Meanwhile, some states classify third-degree rape as second-degree rape or sexual misconduct.

Here’s a breakdown of how third-degree rape is defined in states that designate specific criminal actions as third-degree rape:

State
Definition of Third Degree Rape

New York

New York third-degree rape: According to the New York Penal Law § 130.25, third-degree rape exists when someone has sexual intercourse with someone who:

  1. Is incapable of giving consent, such as someone who is mentally disabled or mentally incapacitated
  2. Is younger than 17 years of age when the person is 21 or older
  3. Did not consent to the act

Rape in the third degree is a class E felony and can result in a sentence of one to five years.

Louisiana

Louisiana third-degree rape: Under Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:43, someone commits third-degree rape when they engage in oral, anal, or vaginal sexual intercourse without consent in one or more of the following circumstances:

  1. The victim is incapable of understanding the nature of the sexual act due to a stupor or abnormal mind caused by intoxication or any other cause that the offender knew or should have known about.
  2. The victim is permanently or temporarily incapable of understanding the nature of the sexual act, and the offender should have known about the victim’s incapacity.
  3. The victim believes that the offender is someone they know, and such belief is intentionally induced by the offender’s pretense, artifice, and concealment.
  4. The offender commits the act without the victim’s consent.

Anyone who commits the crime of third-degree rape will be imprisoned at hard labor without parole, suspension of sentence, and probation for no more than 25 years.

West Virginia

West Virginia recognizes sexual abuse in the third degree instead of third-degree rape. According to §61-8B-9 of the West Virginia Code, sexual abuse in the third degree happens when:

  • A person subjects another person to sexual contact without the latter’s consent, when such lack of consent is due to the victim’s incapacity to consent by reason of being less than 16 years old.

Under West Virginia law, sexual abuse in the third degree is a felony. Anyone convicted of it will be imprisoned in a state correctional facility for between one and five years. They may also be fined up to $10,000.

Kentucky

Kentucky third-degree rape: According to Kentucky Revised Statutes 510.060, a person is guilty of rape in the third degree if they are:

  1. 21 years old or older and engage in sexual intercourse with someone under 16 years old
  2. 21 years old or older and engage in sexual intercourse with someone under 18 for whom they provide a foster family
  3. In a position of special trust or authority and engage in sexual intercourse with someone under 18 with whom they came into contact as a result of that position
  4. An employee, jailer, vendor, contractor, or volunteer of the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Corrections, or a detention facility, and they have sexual intercourse with someone who is under detention at any of these facilities
  5. A peace officer and, while serving in their official capacity, have sexual intercourse with someone who has been arrested or is under investigation

Rape in the third degree is a Class D felony and can result in a prison sentence between one to five years.

Alaska

Alaska recognizes sexual assault in the third degree instead of third-degree rape. According to Section 11.41.425 of the Alaska Statutes, someone is guilty of sexual assault in the third degree if they engage in:

  1. Sexual conduct with someone who is incapacitated, mentally incapable, or unaware that a sexual act is being committed
  2. Sexual conduct with a prisoner while employed in a state correctional facility or similar facility
  3. Sexual penetration while acting as a peace officer with someone in custody
  4. Sexual penetration with someone who is 18 or 19 years old at a juvenile facility as a juvenile probation officer or staff

Sexual assault in the third degree is a Class C felony and can result in a prison term of one to five years.

Delaware

Delaware third-degree rape: Under Delaware Code Title 11, a person is guilty of rape in the third degree when they intentionally engage in:

  1. Sexual intercourse with someone under 16 when they are at least 10 years older than the victim
  2. Sexual intercourse with someone under 14 when they are 19 or older
  3. Sexual penetration with someone under any of the following circumstances:
    1. The sexual penetration happens without the victim’s consent and, during the crime or during the immediate fight from the crime, the perpetrator causes serious mental, emotional, or physical injury to the victim
    2. The victim has not reached their 16th birthday, and during the crime or during the immediate fight from the crime, the perpetrator causes serious mental, emotional, or physical injury to the victim

If third-degree rape results in the birth of a child in the care and custody of the victim or the victim’s legal guardian(s), the court will order the defendant to pay timely child support for the child.

Rape in the third degree is a Class B felony and can result in a prison term of two to 25 years.

Iowa

Iowa doesn’t have a charge called third-degree rape. Instead, it recognizes sexual abuse in the third degree. Under Chapter 709.4 of the Iowa Code, a person commits sexual abuse in the third degree if someone performs a sex act under any of the following circumstances:

  1. The act is done by force against the other person’s will, whether or not the person is their spouse or cohabitating with them
  2. The act is between people who are not cohabitating as spouses and if the other person is:
    1. Suffering from mental incapacity or a defect that prevents them from giving consent
    2. 14 or 15 years old and the perpetrator is:
      1. A member of the same household
      2. Related to the other person by blood or affinity to the fourth degree
      3. In a position of authority over the other person and uses that authority to obtain sexual access
      4. At least four years older than the other person
    3. A controlled substance prevents the other person from consenting
    4. The act is performed while the other person is physically or mentally incapacitated or physically helpless

Sexual abuse in the third degree is a Class C felony, which means it is punishable by confinement for 10 years or under and a fine of at least $1,000 but no more than $10,000.

Maryland

Maryland doesn’t have a charge designated as third-degree rape. Instead, under Chapter 3-307 of the Maryland Criminal Code, “A person who violates this section is guilty of the felony of sexual offense in the third degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 10 years.”

Elements of sexual offense in the third degree include:

  1. Sexual contact with someone without their consent and the perpetrator:
    1. Uses or displays a dangerous weapon or physical object that the victim reasonably believes is a dangerous weapon to suffocate, disfigure, strangle, or inflict serious physical injury on the victim while committing the crime
    2. Threatens or scares the victim into believing that someone known to the victim will be subject to strangulation, death, suffocation, serious physical injury, kidnapping, or suffocation
    3. Is helped by another
  2. Sexual contact with someone who is mentally incapacitated, substantially cognitively impaired, or physically helpless
  3. Sexual contact with someone who is under 14 years old, and the person performing the sexual act is at least four years older than the victim
  4. Sexual contact with someone who is 14 or 15 years old, and the person performing the sexual act is at least 21 years old
  5. Vaginal intercourse with someone who is 14 or 15 years old, and the person performing the act is at least 21 years old

Michigan

Michigan doesn’t have a charge called third-degree rape. Instead, Under the Michigan Penal Code Section 750.520d, a person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree if they engage in sexual penetration with someone and if any of the following circumstances exist:

  1. The other person is between 13 and 16 years old
  2. Coercion or force is used to accomplish the sexual act
  3. The perpetrator knows or should have known that the victim is mentally incapacitated or incapable, or physically helpless
  4. The other person is related to the perpetrator by affinity to the third-degree or blood
  5. The other person is a student between 16 and 18 years old, and the perpetrator is a teacher, substitute teacher, or administrator of the student’s school, school district, or intermediate school district
  6. The other person is a student between 16 and 26 years old receiving special education services, and the perpetrator is a teacher, substitute teacher, volunteer, or employee working for the school, or administrator of the student’s school, school district, or intermediate school district
  7. The perpetrator is a contractual service provider, employee, volunteer of a child care organization, or someone licensed to run a foster family home or group home, and the other person is a resident of at least 16 years old, and the sexual penetration happens during the other person’s residency

Criminal sexual conduct in the third degree is a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years.

Minnesota

Minnesota doesn’t have a charge called third-degree rape, but it does have a charge called criminal sexual conduct in the third degree. According to Section 609.344 of the Minnesota Statutes, criminal sexual conduct in the third degree happens when an adult engages in sexual penetration with another adult and the perpetrator:

  1. Uses coercion to penetrate the victim
  2. Knows or should have reasonably known that the victim is mentally impaired or incapacitated, or physically helpless
  3. Uses force 
  4. Is in a prohibited occupational relationship (i.e., teacher and student) with the victim at the time of the act

A person can also be found guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree if they engage in sexual penetration with anyone under 18 years old and any of the following circumstances exists:

  1. The victim is under 14 years old, and the perpetrator is less than 36 months older than the victim.
  2. The victim is at least 14 but less than 16 years old, and the actor is more than 24 months older than the victim.
  3. The perpetrator uses coercion to accomplish penetration.
  4. The perpetrator knows or has reason to believe that the victim is mentally incapacitated or impaired, or physically helpless.
  5. The victim is at least 16 but less than 18 years old, and the actor is more than 36 months older than the victim and in a recent or current position of authority over the victim.
  6. The perpetrator has a significant relationship with the victim, and the victim was at least 16 but under the age of 18 at the time of sexual penetration.

A person convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree may receive a prison sentence of up to 15 years, a fine of up to $30,000, or both.

Oregon

Oregon third-degree rape: Under Oregon Revised Statutes 163.355, a person commits rape in the third degree if they have sexual intercourse with someone under 16 years old.

Rape in the third degree is a Class C felony, which means wrongdoers may receive sentences of up to five years of prison and fines up to $125,000.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island does not have a charge called third-degree rape. Instead, Under Rhode Island General Laws § 11-37-6, a person is guilty of third-degree sexual assault if they are over 18 years old and engaged in:

  1. Sexual penetration with someone over the age of 14 but under 16 years old
  2. Sexual contact or penetration with someone over the age of 14 but under age 18, under circumstances where the accused:
    1. Has disciplinary or supervisory power over the victim by virtue of the accused’s professional, legal, or occupational status
    2. Is acting in a position of authority with respect to the victim

A person found guilty of third-degree sexual assault in the third degree may be imprisoned for up to five years.

Washington

Washington third-degree rape: Under Section 9A.44.060, a person is guilty of rape in the third degree when, under circumstances that don’t constitute rape in the first and second degrees, the person engages in sexual intercourse with the victim and:

  1. The victim did not consent to sexual intercourse with the accused.
  2. There is a threat of substantial illegal harm to the victim’s property rights.

Rape in the third degree is a Class C felony. Perpetrators of rape in the third degree may have maximum sentences of up to five years. They may also have to pay fines of up to $10,000.

Wyoming

Wyoming does not have a charge called third-degree rape. Under Wyoming Statutes § 6-2-316, sexual abuse in the third degree applies specifically to sexual abuse of minors. A person commits sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree if they are:

  1. 17 years or older and engage in sexual contact with a victim who is 13 to 15 years old, and the victim is at least four years younger
  2. 20 years or older, occupy a position of authority in relation to the victim, and engage in sexual contact with a victim who is 16 or 17 years old, and the victim is at least four years younger
  3. Under 16 years old and inflict sexual contact on someone who is under 14 years old, and the victim is at least three years younger
  4. 17 years or older and knowingly take indecent, immodest, or immoral liberties with someone who is under 17 years old and the victim is at least four years younger

A person convicted under this section may be imprisoned for up to 15 years.

Wyoming’s sexual assault in the third degree, which applies to crimes against adults, states that “an actor commits sexual assault in the third degree if, under circumstances not constituting sexual assault in the first or second degree:

(i) and (ii) Repealed by Laws 2007, ch. 159 § 3.

(iii) The actor subjects a victim to sexual contact under any of the circumstances of W.S. 6-2-302(a)(i) through (iv) or 6-2-303(a)(i) through (vii) and (ix) without inflicting sexual intrusion on the victim and without causing serious bodily injury to the victim.”

Additionally, the law states that “third-degree sexual assault cannot be a lesser included offense to first-degree sexual assault because its elements are not contained within the set of elements for first-degree sexual assault.”

The Emotional Impact of Being a Rape Survivor

Whether you’re a victim of first-, second-, or third-degree rape, you’ve been raped. This can lead to extremely painful and difficult emotions, including anger, shame, guilt, and anxiety. You may also suffer long-term emotional effects, such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including severe anxiety, flashbacks, and nightmares
  • Suicidal ideation and suicide
  • Sleep disorders
  • Sexually promiscuous behavior
  • Substance use
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Relationship problems
  • Depression, including loss of interest in hobbies and passions, weight gain or loss, and feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and sense of self

The road to recovery and justice can be challenging. Remember that sexual assault and rape are never your fault. Rape and sexual assault are crimes done to harm, humiliate, and control. Even if you do not fight the act, you have been raped if you did not consent or could not consent due to age, disability, intoxication, or threats of violence.

What To Do If You Have Experienced Third-Degree Rape

If you have been the victim of third-degree rape, you need to seek medical attention immediately. Medical professionals will evaluate your physical injuries, if any, and collect physical evidence of the incident. To help nurses and other medical professionals get as much evidence as possible, try to avoid going to the bathroom or washing your body, face, and clothes until all the evidence has been collected. 

Report the perpetrator(s) by filing a police report as soon as possible. While you don’t have to sue the person or people who assaulted you, a police report will strengthen your case if and when you decide to take legal action.

Once you’ve filed a police report, you may want to seek emotional support and help from a counselor, therapist, or support group. When and if you’re ready to file a case against the perpetrator(s), you can hire a personal injury lawyer specializing in sexual abuse cases.