Iowa Laws Concerning Domestic Violence
Information for Victims
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Iowa has laws that may help you, but laws will not provide all the help you may need. Domestic violence victim advocates can help and are available in Iowa and throughout the nation.
- To find a domestic violence victim advocate in Iowa, contact the Iowa Domestic Violence and Victim Services Call Center at (800) 770-1650.
- To find services anywhere in the United States, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE, TDD (800) 787-3224.
Overview of Iowa's Laws Concerning Domestic Violence
Iowa law is divided into three parts: criminal law, civil law, and juvenile law. When the goal is to stop domestic violence each part of the law has an appropriate use and some limitations. You can find all of Iowa's laws in a set of books called the Iowa Code. Public libraries in Iowa will have a copy of the Code of Iowa. The Code of Iowa changes every year, so you should check the date of the version you find.
Types of charges - While the county attorney may consider many types of charges based upon what happened, three of the most common in domestic abuse situations are domestic abuse assault, stalking and harassment.
- Domestic abuse assault - Chapter 708 of the Iowa Code addresses different types of assaults. Section 708.2A defines domestic abuse assault as a harmful touching or doing something that puts another in immediate physical fear such as pointing a weapon at that person. The people involved must have a relationship where at least one of the following applies:
· Family or household members living together at the time of the assault;
· Married persons, including juveniles who are married;
· Separated spouses or persons divorced from each other, including juveniles who are or were married;
· Juveniles and adult biological parents of the same minor child regardless of whether they have ever lived together;
· Unmarried persons who are co-habitating - co-habitation does not require a sexual relationship but does require something more than merely residing together; or
· Persons who have lived together within the past year but were not living together at the time of the assault.
Persons involved in a dating relationship are not covered under Iowa's criminal domestic abuse law. However, if a person in a dating relationship assaults his or her intimate partner and is found guilty, the judge can order that person to attend the Batterers Education Program.
- Stalking - Iowa Code chapter 708.11 defines stalking as a pattern of conduct that is designed to create fear of bodily injury or death in another person. Stalking is generally a more serious level of crime than harassment. There is no specific relationship requirement between the stalker and the victim with regard to this crime.
- Harassment - Section 708.7 of the Iowa Code lists a variety of behaviors that could cause annoyance or harm. There is no requirement that these behaviors occur as part of a pattern nor is there any relationship requirement between the harasser and victim. Harassment can include contact that is meant to threaten, intimidate or alarm another, and does not require physical touching or oral communication.
- Law enforcement response - The role of the peace officer is to enforce the law and protect the victim. When a peace officer investigates and finds "probable cause" to believe a domestic abuse assault has been committed, the officer must arrest when
o The assault resulted in bodily injury to a victim, or
o The assault was committed by someone intended to seriously injure the victim, or
o A dangerous weapon was used or displayed in connection with the assault, or
o The abuser is in violation of an order issued under the domestic abuse statute, a divorce action, or a criminal action.
A peace officer may arrest if the officer investigates and has probable cause to believe that domestic abuse assault was committed, although no injury resulted to the victim.
- County attorney response - After charges are filed by a victim or by a police officer, the case is referred to the county attorney in the county where the assault is said to have occurred. The county attorney will review the case and make a decision about whether or not the case will go to court and what charges will be used. Because domestic abuse can range from simple assault to murder, the criminal charges that result will vary. Charges can include various levels of misdemeanor assault, willful injury, sexual abuse in the third degree, terrorism, stalking, harassment, or going armed with intent. Chapter 236 has some domestic abuse assault criminal penalties. More penalties are found in chapter 708 of the Iowa Code.
- No Contact Orders - Following the arrest for domestic abuse assault, the abuser will not be let out of jail before being seeing a judge. The judge may give the abuser a "no contact" order before the abuser leaves the jail. Most no contact orders tell the abuser not to contact the victim identified in the criminal case. If the judge has the right information, the judge may also order the abuser to stay away from other family members of the victim. Each order is a little different so you should read it carefully and ask the county attorney if you have questions about what can or should happen. Many victims fear that the no contact order will only make the abuser angrier. If you are concerned about this, you should talk to a domestic violence victim advocate and the county attorney. They may be able to help you develop a safety plan or may ask the judge to change the order so that it will not be as upsetting to the abuser. A no contact order from a criminal case, cannot give you custody of minor children. To get legal custody of children, you need to start a different case in civil court. Finally, a no contact order should protect you anywhere you go in the United States. To find out more about how no contact orders should be enforced, contact a domestic violence victim advocate.
- Batterers Education Program - When an abuser is found guilty of domestic abuse, the Iowa Code requires the judge to sentence the abuser to the Batterers Education Program (BEP). The Department of Corrections is responsible for BEP throughout Iowa. In most areas of Iowa, BEP lasts 24 weeks. The abuser is expected to pay for the program and is required to attend every BEP group session. If the abuser does not follow the rules of the program, the judge may send the abuser to jail. The Batterers Education Program tries to teach abusers how to have close relationships without using fear, intimidation, or violence. The success of BEP depends upon the abuser. Some abusers are ready to change their behaviors and others are not. Simply attending BEP classes is no guarantee that the abuser will stop violent and abusive behavior. Many abusers become more violent while attending BEP. Still other abusers will stop being violent but will increase their threatening and intimidating behavior. For a person with a history of violent and abusive behavior, long-term change is a process that usually occurs over a period of years. BEP may start an abuser on the path to non-violence; however, continuing on that path will require a strong commitment from the abuser. Victims should keep in contact with the BEP facilitator especially when they are still having contact with the abuser; however, the facilitator will not be able to tell you anything specific about the abuser's discussion or behavior in group. The facilitator can talk about if and when the abuser is going to group sessions, what topics are being covered during group sessions, if the abuser will be asked to leave the group, or if the abuser completes the group work successfully.
- Protective Orders - A victim can ask the court for relief from domestic abuse with or without an attorney. Forms are available for victims to fill out. If a victim decides to apply for the order without the help of an attorney, How to Protect Yourself From Domestic Abuse Without an Attorney, provides useful information about how to fill out the forms and present a case in front of a judge. The people involved must have a relationship where at least one of the following applies:
o Family or household members living together at the time of the assault;
o Married persons, including juveniles who are married;
o Separated spouses or persons divorced from each other, including juveniles who are or were married;
o Juveniles and adult biological parents of the same minor child regardless of whether they have ever lived together;
o Unmarried persons who are cohabitating - co-habitation does not require a sexual relationship but does require something more than merely residing together; or
o Persons who have lived together within the past year but were not living together at the time of the assault.
Please note that if the victim and abuser have never married, they must either have a child together, or they have to live together at the time of the assault, or have lived together within the past year. When persons under 18 years of age are seeking protection, they may have to have a parent or guardian file on their behalf. The clerk of court has forms for this situation.
- Protective Orders granted under chapter 236 are meant to be protective. As a result, if an abuser ignores the order, the abuser can be arrested immediately. Parties to a protective order should read and understand the terms of the order. Only the judge can change the terms of the order so if you no longer feel you want the order, you must ask the court to change or stop the order. Orders from the judge can last up to one year and can be extended for another year only if the petitioner asks for the extension. Finally, a no contact order should protect you anywhere you go in the United States. To find out more about how no contact orders should be enforced, contact a domestic violence victim advocate.
- Divorce - For married persons experiencing domestic abuse, Iowa Code chapter 598 has some special provisions. Protective orders similar to those available through chapter 236 are available when getting a divorce. Your attorney can request a temporary order before there is a hearing set. In this way, the abuser can be served with divorce papers and a protective order at the same time. This can offer some added protection at a dangerous time. If you want an order similar to a Chapter 236 protective order that requires arrest if the abuser violates the order, be sure to ask your attorney to use a uniform domestic abuse protective order for Chapter 598. In addition, Chapter 598 has language designed to protect children who are secondary victims of domestic abuse. The law requires judges to grant custody of minor children to the victim of abuse when the judge agrees that the abuser has committed a domestic abuse assault against the victim. However, before the judge gives custody to the victim, the abuser has the opportunity to present evidence about being a better parent. This evidence may allow the judge to grant custody to the abuser despite a finding of domestic abuse.
Mediation - If the court finds a history of domestic abuse, the judge cannot require mediation during a divorce or custody proceeding. If the parties still want to mediate, they may find a mediator by themselves. The mediator should be knowledgeable about the effects of domestic abuse and should be practiced in special mediation techniques required to successfully mediate in cases where domestic abuse is a factor. Victims of domestic abuse should meet privately with the mediator prior to mediation sessions and should be very specific about what types of abuse have occurred and what protections are needed to make mediation as safe as possible.