A person who engages in sexual activity (including consensual sexual activity) with a child under the age of 16 can be convicted of statutory rape (also called sexual abuse) in Iowa.
Sexual abuse in the second degree. A person commits the crime of sexual abuse in the second degree by engaging in a sex act (intercourse, anal or oral sex, genital touching, or ejaculation onto another person) with a child under the age of 12. The offense is a class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years’ imprisonment. (Iowa Code §§ 702.17, 709.3, 902.9 (2018).)
Sexual abuse in the third degree. Under Iowa’s laws, a person commits sexual abuse in the third degree by engaging in a sex act with any child age 12 or 13, or a child age 14 or 15 when:
Sexual abuse of a child in the third degree is a class C felony, punishable by up to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. (Iowa Code §§ 702.17, 709.4, 902.9 (2018).)
Indecent contact with a child. A person commits the crime of indecent contact by fondling a child under the age of 14 when:
Indecent contact with a child is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of $625 to $6,250. (Iowa Code §§ 702.5, 709.12, 903.1 (2018).)
Sexual exploitation by a school employee. A school employee (such as a teacher, administrator, or volunteer) commits the crime of sexual exploitation by engaging in sexual contact or a sex act with a student or someone who was a student within 30 days of the sexual activity. Sexual abuse of a child in the third degree is a class D felony, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of $750 to $7,500. (Iowa Code §§ 702.17, 709.15, 902.9 (2018).)
Chemical castration. In addition to the penalties noted above, the court has the option of requiring that a first-time offender undergo chemical castration as a condition of release from incarceration (parole). If the offender has two or more convictions, the court must impose this requirement, unless it finds that the treatment would not be effective. These provisions apply to convictions for a "serious sex offense," one that has been committed on a child who was twelve years of age or younger at the time of the assault. (Iowa Code § 903B.10 (2018).)
Inviting, talking about, or arranging to meet a child to engage in sexual activity can result in a conviction for child enticement, even if nothing sexual ever occurs between the defendant and the child. (Iowa Code § 710.10 (2018).)
Marriage. In Iowa, it is a defense to a charge of sexual abuse in the second degree or indecent contact with a child that the defendant and the child are married (or living together as a couple). This defense is a vestige of the marital rape exemption. (Iowa Code §§ 709.4, 709.12 (2018).)
When both partners are underage: The “Romeo and Juliet” exception. Named for Shakespeare’s teenage lovers, many states, including Iowa, have exceptions that protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in sexual conduct with people close to their own age.
Under Iowa’s “Romeo and Juliet” exception, teenagers who engage in consensual sexual activity with 14 and 15-year-olds are not subject to criminal prosecution so long as they are less than four years older than their partners. (Iowa Code § 709.4 (2018).) However, sexual activity with anyone under the age of 14 is always a serious crime, and a conviction can result in significant prison time, large fines, or both.
Mistake as to the child’s age. It is not a defense to a charge of sexual abuse, indecent contact, or sexual exploitation that the defendant believed the child to be of the age of consent, even if that belief was reasonable.
For example, it is not a defense to a charge of sexual abuse if a 35-year-old man met a girl and engaged in sexual activity with her, after she said she was (and looked) 18 years old, but turned out to be only 15 years old.
Under Iowa’s sex offender registration law, people who are convicted of indecent contact, sexual abuse of children, and child exploitation are required to register. (Iowa Code §§ 692A.101, 692A.102, 692A.103, 692A.106 (2018).)
A statutory rape conviction in Iowa has serious consequences. If you are charged with a crime as a result of engaging in consensual activity with a person who is underage, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney. The law can change at any time, and an attorney can tell you what to expect in court and how to best protect your rights.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.
Updated September 6, 2018