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Sexual Exploitation by Counselor or Therapist

In sexual assault cases, some victims are legally considered to be more vulnerable and unable to consent to a sexual encounter in a free and voluntary way. For individuals undergoing therapy or counseling, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual approaches by their counselor or therapist.

Iowa Code section 709.15(2)(b ) criminalizes sexual conduct with an “emotionally dependent” patient or client, emphasizing the legislature's intent to protect those who might potentially be exploited through that power relationship.

Iowa Code section 709.15(2)(c) also limits the time a counselor or therapist can be charged with exploiting a former patient or client to one year, again emphasizing that it is the power relationship and not the mere status of a counselor or therapist that the legislature intended to regulate. 

A counselor or therapist who commits sexual exploitation in violation of Iowa Code section 709.15(2)(c) commits a serious misdemeanor. Iowa Code § 709.15(4)(c ). Section 709.15(2)(c) provides such a violation occurs when there is “[a]ny sexual conduct with a patient or client ... for the purpose of arousing or satisfying the sexual desires of the counselor or therapist or the patient or client.” The Code defines “patient or client” as “a person who receives mental health services from the counselor or therapist.”

The Code defines “patient or client” as “a person who receives mental health services from the counselor or therapist.” Id. § 709.15(1)(e).


Definitions for Sexual Exploitation by a Counselor or Therapist

Iowa Code section 709.15 clearly states any person providing or purporting to provide mental health services is considered a “counselor or therapist.” Iowa Code § 709.15(1)(a ).

A “counselor or therapist” is defined by the Code as a physician, psychologist, nurse, professional counselor, social worker, marriage or family therapist, alcohol or drug counselor, member of the clergy, or any other person, whether or not licensed or registered by the state, who provides or purports to provide mental health services. Id. § 709.15(1)(a ) (emphasis added). “

‘Mental health service’ means the treatment, assessment, or counseling of another person for a cognitive, behavioral, emotional, mental, or social dysfunction, including an intrapersonal or interpersonal dysfunction.” Id. § 709.15(1)(d ). The crime does not include touching as part of a necessary examination or treatment provided in the scope of the counselor's or therapist's practice or employment. Id. § 709.15(2).


Elements of Pattern, Practice, Or Scheme of Sexual Exploitation

To prohibit sexual conduct between a counselor or therapist, the Iowa legislature created the criminal offense of "Pattern, Practice, Or Scheme of Sexual Exploitation" is a serious criminal offense under Iowa Code section 709.15(1)(f)(1). The elements of the felony of requires proof that: 

  1. The defendant either:
    • Kissed the victim; or
    • Touched the clothed or unclothed inner thigh, breast, groin, buttock, anus, pubes, or genitals of the victim; or
    • Performed a sex act with the victim; or
    • Engaged in a specify sexual conduct with the victim.
  2. The defendant engaged in this conduct as part of a pattern, practice or scheme.
  3. The defendant did so with the specific intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of the defendant or (victim).
  4. The defendant was then a counselor or therapist.
  5. The victim was then a patient, client or emotionally dependent former patient or client has been a former patient or client, and the conduct occurred within one year of the termination of the mental health services provided by the defendant.
  6. The defendant's conduct was not part of a necessary examination or treatment provided (victim) by the defendant while acting within the scope of the practice or employment in which the defendant was engaged.

The term “Counselor or Therapist” is defined to include: a physician, psychologist, nurse, professional counselor, social worker, marriage or family therapist, alcohol or drug counselor, member of the clergy, or any other person, whether or not licensed or registered by the State, who provides or purports to provide mental health services. 

For “Mental Health Service,” the State is required to prove that the defendant provided or purported to provide treatment, assessment, or counseling of another person for a cognitive, behavioral, emotional, mental or social dysfunction, including an intrapersonal or interpersonal dysfunction.

To prove that the victim of “Emotionally Dependent” the State must prove that the victim's emotional condition or the nature of the treatment provided by the defendant was such that the defendant knew or had reason to know that the victim was significantly impaired in the ability to withhold consent to sexual conduct by the defendant.


Penalties under Iowa Code section 709.15

A violation of Iowa Code Section 709.15(a) is a Class D felony, punishable by up to five (5) years in Iowa State Prison.

A violation of Iowa Code Section 709.15(b) is an aggravated misdemeanor, which can result in up to two (2) years in prison. Keep in mind that charges for "Sexual Exploitation by a School Employee" are more serious D felony charges that are based upon school employee allegedly engaging in a “pattern or practice or scheme of conduct” to commit sexual contact with a student.

On the other hand, the alleged sexual conduct is charged as a less-serious Aggravated Misdemeanor.


The Statute of Limitations for Sexual Exploitation

The statute of limitations for the crime of sexual exploitation by a school employee, therapist, or counselor depends on whether the crime is charged under Iowa Code § 709.15 as either a Class D felony, an aggravated misdemeanor, or a serious misdemeanor.

For sexual exploitation by a counselor, therapist, or school employee committed on or with a victim under eighteen (18), the prosecution must commence within ten (10) years after victim attains eighteen (18) years of age; or

For any other sexual exploitation by school employee, therapist or counselor when the victim was over eighteen (18) years of age, the prosecution must commence within ten (10) years after victim was last treated by the counselor or therapist, or within ten (10) years after victim was enrolled in or attended the school.

The rules for the statute of limitations for this offense can be found in Iowa Code § 802.2A.


Attorney for Sex Crimes by Teachers, Counselors or Therapists

If you were charged with the crime of “Pattern, Practice, or Scheme of Sexual Exploitation” under Iowa Code section 709.15(1)(f)(1), then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. This crime can be charged as either a Class D felony or an aggravated misdemeanor. 

Find out what you need to do right now to protect yourself against this serious allegation. Call (515) 279-9700 today for a free consultation to discuss your case during a free and confidential consultation. 


This article was last updated on Thursday, September 29, 2016.

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