In Iowa, the general age of consent to engage in sexual conduct is 16. However, girls may consent to sex at age 14 as long as their partner is no more than 5 years older. If their partner is more than five years older, of course, a girl cannot consent and her partner would guilty of statutory rape.

Consent is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape in Iowa. Even if the perpetrator was reasonably mistaken as to the alleged victim’s age, or if the alleged victim lied about their age and appeared to be older than the age of consent, consent is not a defense.

In all states of the U.S., including Iowa, the age of consent is the minimum age at which a person is legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity. People of the age of 15 or younger in Iowa are not legally able to consent to sexual activity. If a person under the age of 16 does engage in sexual activity, it could result in their partner being charged with the crime of statutory rape.

Iowa statutory rape law is violated when a person engages in consensual sexual conduct with an individual under age 16. A close in age exemption allows teens aged 14 and 15 to consent to sex with partners who are fewer than 4 years older. Regardless of age, it is also illegal for a school employee to engage in sexual conduct with a current student or even a student who attended school within 30 days of such a violation.

There are some defenses that can be made in a statutory rape case. If the perpetrator and the alleged victim were married at the time of the act, no crime has been committed. As with any alleged crime, the perpetrator may argue that they were not the person who committed the act. Or, they may claim that the victim’s story is fabricated and no sexual relations took place.

One of the most effective defenses to a statutory rape charge in Iowa is the so-called “Romeo and Juliet” defense. Under Iowa’s sexual abuse statute, sexual relations with a person aged 14 or 15 is not a crime if the perpetrator was less than four years older than the victim at the time of the act and the conduct was consensual Therefore, if two teenagers aged 15 and 16 have consensual sexual relations, the 16-year-old cannot be charged with a crime.

Homosexual and Heterosexual Conduct

The Iowa age of consent law applies to both homosexual and heterosexual conduct. This is not true in all states in the U.S.

Authoritarian Figures

A stricter standard applies if a perpetrator is an authoritarian figure. In that case, the age of consent is 18 years old. “Authoritarian figures” are adults who are in a position of authority over a young person, such as a teacher, coach, employer, or clergy member. Thus, a teacher cannot have consensual sex with a minor who is 17, because the age of consent for a teacher is 18.

But again, it is illegal for a school employee to engage in sexual intercourse with a current student or even a former student who attended school within 30 days of the violation. A school employee of any kind who does this would be subject to criminal prosecution.

What Is the Penalty for Violating Age of Consent Laws in Iowa?

Iowa has seven statutory sexual abuse charges in its code which are used to prosecute age of consent and child abuse related crimes within the state. One or more of these charges may be used to prosecute violations of the Iowa age of consent law, such as statutory rape or the Iowa equivalent of that charge.

Whether a crime is charged as a felony, misdemeanor, or an aggravated felony or misdemeanor, depends on the specifics of the acts committed and the relative ages of the perpetrator and victim.

One penalty for conviction of these crimes is a requirement that the perpetrator register as a sex offender. Sex crimes in Iowa are categorized into three tiers and the length of time that a person convicted of a crime must register depends on the tier into which their crime is categorized. People convicted of Tier I sex crimes must register for 10 years. People convicted of Tier II crimes must register for periods of time from ten years to life depending on prior convictions. People convicted of Tier III sex crimes must register as a sex offender for life.

The seven statutory sexual abuse charges used to prosecute age-of-consent crimes in Iowa are as follows:

  • Indecent contact with a child: This crime involves a perpetrator who is 16 or 17 and a victim who is at least five years younger than the perpetrator. The conduct prohibited is certain enumerated types of touching of the victim, who is not the perpetrator’s spouse. The motive of the touching must be to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either of the perpetrator or the victim. The crime is committed even if the victim consents to the touching.
    • Or, the crime is committed If a perpetrator who is 18 or older engages in certain enumerated types of touching of a child who is not the offender’s spouse, with or without the child’s consent, for the same purpose. The crime is an aggravated misdemeanor and the punishment is up to 1 year in prison;
  • Lascivious conduct with a minor: This crime is a different crime from lascivious acts with a minor. This crime involves a perpetrator over the age of 18 who is in a position of authority over a minor.
    • The perpetrator must force, persuade, or coerce a minor, with or without consent, to disrobe or partially disrobe for the purpose of arousing or satisfying the sexual desires of either of them. This crime is punishable by confinement for as much as one year in jail and payment of a maximum fine of $1,875;
  • Lascivious acts with a minor: As a class C felony, this crime applies to anyone who is 16 or older and the punishment is up to 5 years in prison. As a class D felony, this crime also applies to anyone 16 or over and the punishment is up to 5 years in prison. Again, the crime is committed even if the victim consents to the activity which constitutes the crime;
  • Sexual abuse, second degree: This is not an age of consent crime. Rather it is sex committed by force, display of a weapon or threat of force or against the will of the victim or with a victim under the age of 12. In addition, the perpetrator must be aided or abetted by one or more other people. This crime is punishable by up to 25 years in state prison;
  • Sexual exploit of a minor: Iowa law allows this crime to be prosecuted as a statutory charge. This means that this charge can be applied in cases in which the victim is younger than the Iowa age of consent, i.e. 16, even if the victim freely consents to sexual relations with the perpetrator;
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor: This crime consists of the following:
    • Employing, using, inducing, permitting, attempting to cause, etc., a minor to simulate a prohibited sexual act with the intent, knowledge or reason to know that the act or simulated act may be photographed, filmed or otherwise preserved in a visual depiction; or
    • Employing, using, persuading, inducing, permitting, attempting to cause, etc. a minor to engage in a prohibited sexual act;
    • This crime is a Class C felony in Iowa which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison;
  • Sexual misconduct with offenders and juveniles: This is an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison. This crime is committed when a peace officer, or an officer, employee, contractor, vendor, volunteer, or agent of the department of corrections, or an officer, employee, or agent of any department of correctional services engages in a sex act with a person who is in the custody of the department of corrections or a department of correctional services.

As can be seen from the summary above, the penalties for violating Iowa’s age of consent laws vary, but generally the most severe punishment is 10 years in prison. Again,however, conviction may require registration as a sex offender.

Consulting an Attorney

If you believe that you may have engaged in sexual conduct with a minor, then you should consult a Iowa criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can analyze the evidence and advise you on your best course of action. Or, if you have been charged with any of the seven sexual abuse charges related to the age of consent, you definitely want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney for advice as to how you want to proceed.

If you have already been convicted and are unsure of the sex offender registration requirements and how to meet them, you also need to consult a criminal defense lawyer for guidance on how to comply with your registration requirement.