Iowa Romeo and Juliet Law

What Is the Romeo and Juliet Law in Iowa?

To help certain young people avoid sex crime charges for engaging in sexual activities with each other, Iowa has imposed legal protections, commonly called “Romeo and Juliet” laws that apply to a particular age group.

Specifically, Iowa’s Romeo and Juliet defense allows 14 and 15-year-olds to engage in consensual sexual activity with partners who are no more than 4 years older than them. Keep in mind that the age of consent is 16 in Iowa, meaning anyone below the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sex even if they willingly and excitedly say “yes.” As such, high schoolers, particularly, juniors and seniors, risked facing statutory rape charges for having sex with their younger peers.

Without the Romeo and Juliet law in place, 16, 17, and 18-year-olds would face statutory rape charges, among other sex crime accusations potentially, for engaging in sexual relations with 14 and 15-year-old teens. However, the law helps teens ages 16 to 18 steer clear of statutory rape charges for having sex with 14 or 15 year-olds. The law does not, however, permit these age groups to have sexual relations with anyone under 14.

Another exception is marriage. An 18-year-old is allowed to have sex with someone under 15 ONLY if they are married, while a 17-year-old may have sexual relations with a 14-year-old only if they are married.

Can a 15-Year-Old Date a 20-Year-Old in Iowa?

14 and 15-year-olds are only allowed to engage in sexual activity with someone who is no more than 4 years older than them. With this in mind, 15-year-olds and 20-year-olds cannot have sex in Iowa because there is a 5-year age gap. Doing so may warrant criminal sexual abuse charges.

Can a 13-Year-Old Date a 16-year-Old in Iowa?

Anyone under the age of 14 cannot receive protection under the Romeo and Juliet law, as it only applies to sex involving 14 and 15-year-olds. Thus, a 16-year-old cannot have a dating relationship involving sex with a 13-year-old.

Can a 20-Year-Old Date a 16-Year-Old in Iowa?

16 is the age of consent in Iowa, so a 16-year-old may date a 20-year-old and legally have sex with their partner.

What Happens If Two 13-Year-Olds Date in Iowa?

Two 13-year-olds can date each other, technically, but they cannot legally consent to sex. Iowa’s Romeo and Juliet law does not apply to anyone younger than 14, therefore, two 13-year-olds cannot have sex n Iowa.

Can an 18-Year-Old Date a 16-Year-Old in Iowa?

As mentioned before, anyone who meets the age of consent may have sex with others who are 16 or older if it is willful and mutually consensual. Since 18 is above the age of consent, 16-year-olds can have sex with 18-year-olds in Iowa.

Can You Get Jail Time for Statutory Rape?

Statutory rape is often charged as third-degree sexual abuse in Iowa. This class C felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Again, this offense is committed when a victim is 14 or 15 and the defendant is MORE than 4 years older than them.

A conviction for statutory rape, known as sexual abuse in the third degree, also results in mandatory sex offender registration. A convicted sex offender who is 20 years old or older is generally required to enlist in Iowa’s Sex Offender Registry (SOR), a public database that displays offenders’ identifying information and crime details.

What Does Consent Look Like?

It’s important to realize that even if two people engage in lawful sexual activity, they could still get charged for sex crimes if such activity was not consensual. Forcing, threatening, or pressuring someone to have sex is illegal under all circumstances, no matter what age you are.

For this reason, we discuss what consent looks like. Consent can be revoked at any time and may be expressed differently. Take a look at some examples of consent below, provided by RAINN:

  • Asking permission before changing the type or degree of sexual activity
  • Confirming that there is a mutual interest before initiating any physical touch
  • Informing your partner that you can stop at any time
  • Periodically checking in with your partner, such as asking “Is this still okay?”
  • Providing positive feedback when you’re comfortable with an activity
  • Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying”
  • Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level

RAINN also describes what consent does NOT look like, which is:

  • Refusing to take “no” for an answer
  • Being disengaged, nonresponsive, or visibly upset
  • Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
  • Being under the legal age of consent (16 in Iowa)
  • Being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
  • Pressuring someone into sexual activity through fear or intimidation
  • Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past

Knowing what consent does and does not look like could better help you avoid criminal accusations, but our lawyers understand that you could still end up with sex crime charges, nonetheless. If you are facing these allegations, reach out online or by calling (515) 329-3100 to learn your next steps.

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