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Sexual Abuse

Under Iowa law, accusations that would commonly be called rape or sexual assault are called "Sexual Abuse" under the law. Any sexual abuse charge is extremely serious, and all may result in prison time and hefty fines. Many will also lead to you being required to register as a sex offender, where anyone with internet access can see your conviction. Others may lead to life imprisonment.

The criminal offense of sexual abuse in Iowa can be charged as in the first degree, the second degree, or the third degree. Many of these cases resolve around whether the victim consented or whether the victim was under the influence or otherwise incapacitated.

Sexual Abuse Lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa

An experienced sexual abuse lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa, at  McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. can take on the charges against you, no matter how tough the fight. Sexual abuse charges can be a difficult matter, with tremendous prejudice from the jury. We have nearly 50 years worth of experience in the criminal courtroom. We will seek to overcome that prejudice while exposing the false accusations and exaggerated claims in the case against you. Call us today at (515) 279-9700 to set up a consultation.

We represent those accused of sexual assault throughout the Des Moines area, including in West Des Moines, Urbandale, Ankeny and anywhere in Polk County, Dallas County or the state of Iowa.


Defining Sexual Abuse in Iowa Law

Statutes on sexual abuse are in Iowa Code Chapter 709. Iowa Code 709.1 defines sexual abuse as any sex act that is performed against the will of one of the people involved, whether that person refused consent, gave it only after threat of force or was unable to give it because the victim was drugged, drunk, unconscious, had mental disability or illness, was physically disabled to the point that he or she could not give consent, or was a child.

Iowa law has three classifications of sexual abuse:


Sexual Abuse in the First Degree

The crime of sexual abuse involves an allegation that the defendant performed a sex act with the victim. The crime requires that the sex act was committed in one of the following ways:

  1. by force or against the will of the victim; or
  2. with the victim's consent or acquiescence gained by threats of violence toward any person; or
  3. while the victim was under the influence of a sleep-inducing drug; or
  4. while the victim was unconscious; or
  5. while the victim was suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which prevented the victim from giving consent; or
  6. while the victim was under the age of 14 years.

Under Iowa Code section 709.1 and Iowa Code section 709.2, when the crime is charged in the first degree, the State is required to show under all reasonable doubt that during the commission of sexual abuse, the defendant caused the victim a serious injury.

In the State v. Carter, 602 N.W.2d 818, 822 (Iowa 1999), the court considered whether the serious injury must occur simultaneously with the commission of the sexual abuse. The court instead found that the serious injury need not occur simultaneously with the commission of the sexual abuse, but may precede or follow the sexual abuse if the injury and the sexual abuse “occur as part of an unbroken chain of events or as part of one continuous series of acts connected with one another.”


Sexual Abuse in the Second Degree

Under Iowa Code section 709.3, for the charge of sexual abuse in the second degree, the prosecutor is required to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that during the sex act, the defendant:

  1. Displayed a dangerous weapon in a threatening manner; or
  2. Used or threatened to use force creating a substantial risk of death or serious injury to any person; or
  3. Was aided or abetted by one or more persons.

Alternative, the crime of Sexual Abuse in the second degree can involve an allegation that the defendant's sex act was with a person under the age of 12 years.

The term "dangerous weapon" is defined by Iowa Code sections 702.7 and defined in Iowa Criminal Jury Instructions 200.21. The term "serious injury" is defined by Iowa Code sections 702.18 respectively and in Iowa Criminal Jury Instructions 200.22.


Sexual Abuse in The Third Degree

Under Iowa Code section 709.4, as amended by H.F. 661 in 1999, the crime of sexual abuse in the third degree requires proof that the defendant performed a sex act with the victim in the following ways:

  1. By force or against the will of the victim; or
  2. While the victim was suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which prevented the victim from giving consent; or
  3. While the victim was under the age of 14 years; or
  4. While the victim was 14 or 15 years old and either:
    • a member of the same household as the defendant;
    • while the defendant was in a position of authority over the victim and used that authority to coerce the victim to submit to the sex act;
    • the defendant was 4 or more years older;
  5. The victim was the defendant's relative by marriage or blood to the fourth degree (see State v. Allen, 304 N.W.2d 203 (Iowa 1981), for methods of determining the degree of one person's relationship to another).
  6. The defendant and the victim were not then living together as husband and wife.

Sexual Abuse in the Third Degree

Iowa Code section 709.4(1), the crime of sexual abuse in the third degree requires proof that the defendant performed a sex act with the victim by force or against the will of the victim. 

Under Iowa Code section 709.4(3), sexual abuse in the third degree can also be proven if the defendant performed a sex act with the victim while:

The crime of sexual abuse in the third degree can be charged even when the chemical name of the controlled substance is not generally know or recognized, circumstantial evidence may be used to prove the defendant’s knowledge that the material was some kind of a controlled substance. See State v. Parrish, 502 N.W.2d 1 (Iowa 1993).


Sexual Abuse in Third Degree if the Victim is Incapacitated

Sexual abuse in the third degree requires proof that the defendant performed a sex act with the victim while the victim was either mentally incapacitated, physically incapacitated, or physically helpless. The defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was mentally incapacitated, physically incapacitated, physically helpless. For sexual abuse in the third degree, the crime was added as Iowa Code section 709.4(4) by H.F. 661, Acts of the 78th General Assembly, 1999.


Punishments and Registering as a Sex Offender in Des Moines

If convicted of first degree sexual abuse, a Class A felony, you could spend the rest of your life in prison without chance of parole. If convicted of second degree sexual abuse, you could face up to 25 years in prison. For third degree sexual abuse, you will face up to 10 years in prison and a fine from $1,000 to $10,000.

Additionally, if the crime involved any act of violence or a minor, you would be required to register as a sex offender. You will be in the public sex offender database, where anyone with internet access can look up sex offenders near them or by name, and see a photo, description, address, and details of the crime.

Regardless of the degree, a sexual assault conviction will dramatically impact your life. It will be on your permanent criminal record, and affect your prospects for jobs, housing, loans and other opportunities. People are frightened of rapists, and that's what they will think when they see your record.

Sexual abuse charges are often based on false claims. A person may lie because he or she is embarrassed of a drunken encounter, or to explain away adultery. Exaggerated claims also come into play, and small details can make the difference between a legal sexual encounter and sexual assault. Your Des Moines sex crime lawyer can expose the falsehoods in the claims against you.


Additional Resources

Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault  - IowaCASA is a non-profit organization in Des Moines, Iowa, that connects sexual assault agencies across the state of Iowa and helps provide resources, tools, and training to advocates who serve survivors of sexual violence. The mission of IowaCASA is to unite people and organizations to help end sexual violence and meet the diverse needs of survivors. 


Crisis & Advocacy Services in Polk County, Iowa - PCCAS is a division of the Polk County Department of Community, Family & Youth Services. The organization provides assistance and advocacy to victims of crime in Polk County, Iowa. The organization promotes empowerment for victims/survivors of violent crime. The organization has a 24 hour crisis response services and hotline. 

Community & Family Division
Polk County River Place
2309 Euclid Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50310
515-286-3434

IFSAP - Intra-Family Sexual Abuse Program - The goal of the program is to stop child abuse and support the victim. The program provides wrap around services work to make the home environment protective and to provide prevention and safety information to the victim and non-offending parent. At the same time, the offender or offending parent is provided treatment with the Fifth Judicial District.


Attorneys for Sexual Assault Cases in Polk County, Iowa

If you face charges of sexual abuse, it's important to act now so your sexual abuse lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa, can begin building your defense. Our criminal defense attorneys at McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. have more than four decades of experience taking on tough cases.

We will put that experience to work for you in your case. Call us today at (515) 279-9700 for a free consultation.


Tell Us About Your Case

How would you like to be contacted?

This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

* All fields are required.

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