CEDAR RAPIDS — In the past, victims of sexual abuse might have waited weeks or months for an arrest before feeling safe at home or in the workplace. A new law, enacted July 1, allows victims to ask a judge for a civil protective order before an arrest or even if no arrest or police report is made.
Anastasia Basquin, victim/witness coordinator with the Linn County Attorney’s Office, said the new law applies to crimes listed in Iowa Code 709, including sexual abuse, incest, sexual exploitation of a minor and lascivious acts with a child. In the past, a victim of sexual abuse couldn’t ask for a protective order until the arrest of a suspect and there also had to be a domestic relationship between the victim and abuser.
“There is no relationship requirement between victim and abuser, as in the former law,” Basquin said. “This would cover date rape incidents or in cases where the victim may be under age 18 because the parents can also ask for an order for their child.”
A victim also can ask for a protective order even if they don’t want to go to police or there’s not enough evidence to file criminal charges, Basquin pointed out. Many victims don’t report sexual abuse for different reasons.
Basquin said in one recent Linn County case, the criminal investigation is ongoing and an arrest hasn’t been made but the victim was able to get a protective order.
“A sexual abuse investigation can go on a longtime and the suspect may not be arrested right away,” she pointed out.
It’s up to a judge’s discretion whether to grant the temporary protective order. The victim has to prove the allegation of sexual abuse by a preponderance of the evidence, according to the law.
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First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said preponderance of evidence, a lower standard of proof used in civil cases, would require the petitioner to prove the allegation is more likely true, than not true.
According to the law, a judge can order the defendant to stop the sexual abuse and to stay away from the victim’s home or family home, school or workplace. A parent could also request the same for their child.
“This is a welcome addition to the laws protecting victims of sexual abuse,” Maybanks said. “We hope it encourages more victims to come forward and seek the protection of the court, as well as assisting us with prosecuting sexual abusers.”
Maybanks added that he wants victims of sexual abuse to have confidence in the system and know “we are here to help them.”
Victims can get a form for the protective order at their county court clerk’s office and write down the details of the incident for the judge, Basquin said. They don’t need a lawyer or have to pay any costs, and county attorney offices are allowed to assist them. Any of the social service agencies that assist sexual assault victims also can help with the form, she added.
Basquin pointed out the victim can keep their address confidential in filing the order. A social service agency or shelter, a post office box or a relative’s address can be used for purposes of filing a petition.
Basquin added she has only had a few victims asking about the law and filling out a form but she thinks most probably are not aware of the new law.
Linn County court clerks said they have had only a few people ask for the forms and Johnson County clerks said they have not had any so far.
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Elizabeth Barnhill, executive director of Iowa Coalition of Sexual Assault — or CASA — in Des Moines, said she has heard about victims are applying for these protective orders across the state and them being granted by judges, but the organization doesn’t have any numbers.
CASA did conduct several events around the state, training about 100 sexual assault victim counselors in preparation for the new law, Barnhill said. They will continue to train other members of local sexual assault response teams, including law enforcement, prosecutors, health care providers and college and school personnel.
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