Iowa Sexual Battery Laws

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In Iowa, a person commits the crime of sexual abuse (sometimes called sexual battery) by engaging in any sexual activity by force or against the victim’s will.

For more information, see Sexual Battery Laws and Penalties.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Under Iowa law, sexual abuse is defined as any sex act committed against another by force, against the victim’s will, or when the victim is unable to consent (whether because the victim is unconscious, or under the influence of a drug the induces sleep, or has a mental disability, or is a child under the age of 14).

Iowa law broadly defines “sex act” to include intercourse, oral or anal sex, or any contact between the genitals, hands, or fingers of one person and the genitals or anus of another.

(Iowa Code §§ 702.5, 702.17, 709.1.)

Violent sexual conduct may also be prosecuted as an assault (an act intended to cause pain, injury, or offensive physical contact, or place another in fear of pain or injury). For example, using any object to sexually penetrate another is a felony assault in Iowa.

(Iowa Code §§ 708.1, 708.2.)

For more information on assault laws, see Iowa Misdemeanor Assault LawsIowa Felony Assault Laws, and Assault With a Dangerous Weapon in Iowa.

Sexual Abuse in the First Degree

In Iowa, a person commits the crime of sexual abuse in the first degree if, in the course of committing sexual abuse, the defendant causes serious injury to another.

A serious injury creates a risk of death, or causes permanent disfigurement or sustained impairment, including disabling mental illness. Examples of serious injuries include bone fractures and severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Any injury to a child that requires surgical repair under general anesthesia is also considered a serious injury.

(Iowa Code §§ 702.18, 709.2.)

Sexual Abuse in the Second Degree

Second degree sexual abuse occurs when, in the course of committing sexual abuse (as defined above):

  • the defendant uses or threatens to use force that creates a risk of death or serious injury
  • the defendant displays a weapon in a threatening manner
  • the victim is under the age of 12, or
  • the defendant is aided by one or more persons, and the act is committed by force or against the victim’s will.

(Iowa Code § 709.3.)

Sexual Abuse in the Third Degree

Sexual abuse in the third degree encompasses a number of crimes, including any sexual act performed by force or against the other person’s will.

(Iowa Code § 709.4.)

Acts between people not living together in marriage

The statute also addresses the following three situations, when the sex act is committed between people who arenot husband and wife (or living together as such) at the time of the act:

Twelve or thirteen-year-old victim. The other person is only twelve or thirteen years old. For example, a teacher who has sex with her thirteen-year old student could be prosecuted under this law.

No ability to give consent. The other person has a mental defect or incapacity that makes it impossible to give consent. For instance, taking sexual advantage of a severely disabled person would violate this provision.

Fourteen or fifteen-year-old victim. When the other person is only fourteen or fifteen years old, sex with such a person is illegal if any of the following conditions exist:

  • the sex act occurs between people in the same household
  • the parties are related
  • the defendant is in a position of authority and uses that power to coerce the other person, or
  • the defendant is four or more years older than the other person.

This last provision criminalizes incest and child sexual abuse, while exempting consensual sexual activity between teenagers. For example, a 17-year-old who engaged in consensual sexual activity with his 15-year-old girlfriend could not be prosecuted for sexual abuse.

(Iowa Code § 709.4.)

Excluding husbands and wives (and those living as such) from the crimes explained just above is known as a “marital rape shield,” but it does not necessarily mean that spouses and co-habitants may engage in these activities without legal repercussions. Prosecutors may, depending on the facts, charge perpetrators with general assault crimes.

Iowa’s assault laws are explained in Assault and Battery (click the link for Iowa).

For more on Iowa’s approach to marital rape, see Iowa Marital Rape Laws.

Drugged or incapacitated victim

Finally, abuse in the third degree occurs when the other person is drugged or incapacitated.

  • Drugs. The offense occurs when the victim is under the influence of a controlled substance, which prevents the person from giving consent, and the defendant knew or should have known of the person’s condition. The substance Rohypnol (also know as Flunitrazepam), a hypnotic commonly associated with “date rape,” is included within the class of drugs specified in the statute. For information on controlled substances, see Drug Charges.
  • Physical or mental incapacity. The victim may be mentally or physically incapacitated, or physically helpless. For example, it would be a crime under this provision to have sex with a person who is unconscious.

(Iowa Code § 709.4.)

Punishment

Sexual abuse in the first degree is a class “A” felony, punishable by life imprisonment.

Sexual abuse in the second degree is a class “B” felony, punishable by up to 25 years’ imprisonment.

Otherwise, sexual abuse is a class “C” felony, punishable by up to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.

Sexual penetration is also a class “C” felony.

(Iowa Code §§ 708.2, 709.2, 709.3, 709.4, 902.9.)

Sex Offender Registry

People who are convicted of sexual abuse in Iowa are required to register as sex offenders. People who are convicted of aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse by force or against the victim’s will are required to register for life. Other sex offenders are required to register for ten years.

(Iowa Code §§ 692A.101, 692A.102, 692A.103, 692A.106.) 

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with a sex crime in Iowa, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney. A conviction for sexual abuse can have serious and lasting ramifications, including time in prison and lifetime sex offender registration. An attorney will be able to explain the legal process to you and help you present the strongest defense.

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