Iowa law makes it illegal for a person to have consensual sexual activity with a minor younger than 16, with a few exceptions. Anyone who engages in such unlawful conduct can face charges for, among others, sexual abuse, lascivious acts with a child, indecent contact with a child, lascivious conduct with a minor, and sexual exploitation.
Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. The age of consent can vary among states, and some states differentiate between consensual sex between minors who are close in age (for example, two teenagers of the same age), as opposed to sex between a minor and a much older adult. Keep in mind that engaging in any sexual activity without the other person's consent can result in more serious rape charges and penalties, no matter what the age of the other person.
In Iowa, the age of consent is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 can face charges for statutory rape or a similar crime.
For these age-based sexual offenses, it's immaterial whether the child consented to the activity or not. The child's age is the important fact, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.
Like many states, Iowa doesn't use the term "statutory rape" in its laws. Rather, statutory rape offenses are prosecuted under Iowa's sex crime laws (outlined below). Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim and the conduct that occurred.
Subsequent convictions result in harsher penalties.
A person commits sexual abuse in the second degree when they engage in sexual abuse of a child younger than 14. Second-degree sexual abuse constitutes a class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
Third-degree sexual abuse occurs when a person engages in a sex act with a 14- or 15-year-old and any of the following are true:
A guilty defendant receives a class C felony conviction and faces up to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of $1,375 to $13,660.
Iowa law makes it unlawful for any person 16 or older to perform any of the following acts with a child younger than 14 to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either of them:
Depending on the nature and circumstances of the offense, a defendant can face a class C or D felony conviction. A defendant guilty of a class C felony faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1,375 to $13,660. A class D felony carries up to five years of incarceration and a $1,025 to $10,245 fine.
A person commits the crime of indecent contact with a child younger than 14 by engaging in certain sexual conduct with a child when:
This sexual conduct includes:
Indecent contact with a child constitutes an aggravated misdemeanor, subjecting a guilty defendant to up to two years' incarceration and a fine of $855 to $8,545.
Iowa law contains special provisions for sex crimes committed by those in a position of authority over a minor.
Lascivious conduct with a minor. It is unlawful for a person 18 or older who is in a position of authority over a minor age 14 or 15 to engage in certain sexual conduct to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either of them, including:
Lascivious conduct with a minor can be an aggravated or serious misdemeanor, subjecting a guilty defendant to up to two years' imprisonment and a $8,545 fine, depending on the sexual activity involved.
Sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation by a counselor, therapist, school employee, or adult providing training or instruction occurs when such an individual continuously engages in sexual conduct with a minor. Such unlawful behavior can be a class D felony or an aggravated or serious misdemeanor depending on the nature of the offense and the parties involved. A guilty offender faces up to five years of incarceration and a $10,245 fine.
Yes, with limitations. In many states, "Romeo and Juliet" exceptions—named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers—protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual conduct with others close to their own age.
Iowa's Romeo-and-Juliet exemption protects from prosecution certain minors who engage in consensual sex. 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 apart in age. For example, an 18-year-old who is romantically involved with a 15-year-old could assert this defense. The law also exempts certain sexual conduct between close-in-age teens. However, any sexual contact with a child younger than 14 is a crime, and a conviction can result in significant prison time.
Defendants charged with sex-related crimes of minors in Iowa have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.
Actual innocence. Defendants charged with statutory rape or a similar crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."
Consent. While many offenders attempt to use consent as a defense, this does not constitute a sufficient defense in sex crime prosecutions involving a victim younger than 14 in Iowa.
Mistake of age. Iowa, like many states, doesn't recognize a mistake-of-age defense for sex crimes involving underage victims, even if the defendant's belief was reasonable or the child lied about their age or looked older.
Marriage. Iowa has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor and their adult spouse (or living together as a couple) even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. This defense applies to the charges of sexual abuse in the third degree, lascivious acts with a child, and indecent contact with a child. The marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption.
Iowa's Sex Offender Registry Act requires, in addition to the applicable fines and incarceration time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) to register as sex offenders. These crimes include all of the unlawful conduct discussed above. Depending on the offense, registration lasts from 10 years to life. Failure to register can result in additional misdemeanor or felony charges and penalties.
Unlike adult offenders, the juvenile court can waive the requirement under certain circumstances when a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent for an offense that requires registration.
If you are facing statutory rape-related charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution's case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to the unique circumstances of your case. A knowledgeable attorney can also advise you on how the law will apply to your set of facts.
(Iowa Code §§ 692A.101, 692A.102, 692A.103, 692A.106, 692A.111, 702.5, 702.17, 709.1, 709.2, 709.3, 709.4, 709.8, 709.12, 709.14, 709.15, 902.9, 903.1 (2024).)