A Senate subcommittee met on Jan. 31, 2022 to consider changes to the state’s statute of limitations for sexual assault cases. Seated at the table, from left, are Sens. Janet Petersen, Brad Zaun and David Rowley. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Survivors of childhood sexual assault would have more time to pursue civil action against their abusers under one of several proposed changes to Iowa’s sexual assault laws.
Legislators took aim at the issue last year, passing a law to remove the time limit for a victim of childhood sex abuse to bring criminal charges against their abuser. Previously, victims had only until their 33rd birthday to prosecute.
Sen. Brad Zaun proposed what he called “the next logical step,” which would allow survivors to bring a civil case against their abuser after the abuser is convicted on criminal charges. Iowans who experienced sexual abuse as a minor currently have one year after they turn 18 to make a civil claim.
Zaun, R-Urbandale, said Iowa was “way, way overdue” in reforming its statute of limitations laws for sexual assault survivors.
“I’ve heard from literally probably hundreds of victims through the years, giving me their story,” he said. “It just disgusts me that this is going on, and I’m very passionate about it.”
Some survivors raised concerns that tying civil cases to criminal convictions may prevent victims from coming forward.
Kylie DeWees, a law school student and survivor of childhood sexual assault, told lawmakers that she decided not to press criminal charges against her assailant when she was in high school.
“When the police officers came to me and wanted to prosecute, I was being recruited for college athletics, I was about to go off to college,” she said. “I didn’t want to be known for this.”
DeWees said she would prefer to pursue a civil case, but the bill, as proposed, would require a criminal trial first. To obtain a conviction, she said, she would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the abuse happened, whereas civil court requires a lower standard of proof.
Zaun acknowledged the legislation wasn’t perfect, but said some compromises were necessary to win support with Senate Republicans. He told the Iowa Capital Dispatch that he was unsure if he had the votes to pass this year’s proposal, but said it looked “pretty promising.”
A Senate subcommittee voted unanimously to move the bill forward. Lobbyists for several sexual assault and human trafficking prevention organizations spoke in favor.
The bill is part of a larger push to reform Iowa’s prosecution process for sexual assault. The House Judiciary Committee approved two bills Monday to change the ways courts handle sexual assault proceedings.
One proposal, House Study Bill 529, would prohibit lawyers from asking victims of sexual assault about their sexual history in depositions. The bill does allow for certain exceptions.
“In sexual abuse cases, I think it’s important that victims can come forward without being victimized once more by being questioned on their past sexual behavior,” said Rep. Cherielynn Westrich, R-Ottumwa. “This bill will protect victims in post-conviction proceedings as well as we do in trial.”
The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move the bill, marking it eligible for floor debate. A Senate subcommittee recommended the passage of companion legislation.
House lawmakers on the committee also unanimously moved House Study Bill 522. If a child or a person with a cognitive impairments or disability spoke to someone out of court about sexual or physical abuse they endured, the proposed bill would allow that confidant to testify about the conversation.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.