Definition of Sexual Abuse

According to Iowa law, sexual abuse is defined as a sex act committed by one person by force on another person, or against that other person's will.

A sex act occurs when one person’s genitals touch another persons mouth or genitals, or when a substitute for a person’s genitals, such as fingers or an object, touches another person’s genitals.

A sex act is against a person’s will if consent is obtained by threats of violence, if they are asleep, unconscious, or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol or any other reason, or if the person has a disability that limits their ability to flee.

Common Terms

Rape: Rape is usually defined as vaginal, oral, or anal sex by force or against a person’s will. Iowa law uses the term “sexual abuse.”

Sexual Assault: Sexual contact and touching in a nonconsensual manner that is offensive to that person. Sexual contact is any touching of the sexual or intimate parts of the body.

Child Sexual Abuse: The sexual exploitation or victimization of a child by an adult, adolescent, or older child. The difference in age and sexual knowledge between a child and an older person makes consent impossible. This includes a range of behaviors including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration, fondling, exhibitionism, prostitution, and photographing a child for pornography. The sexual activity does not have to involve force. Children are often bribed or threatened into sexual acts.

Incest: When a person sexually abuses a member of the same family.

Acquaintance Rape: When a victim knows the person who raped him/her.

Date Rape: A rape that occurs on a date or similar social event.

Sexual Harassment: Any unwanted sexual advances, requests for favors and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature that makes an individual uncomfortable or intimidated. This can include sexual assault and rape.

Domestic Violence: An incident or pattern of behaviors (may include physical, emotional, economic, verbal and/or sexual abuse) that a person uses to gain power and control within an intimate relationship. "Domestic" usually refers to live-in partners, former live-in partners, or adult relatives who live in the same household.

Dating Violence: Physical, emotional, economic, verbal, or sexual abuse committed by one dating partner against another.

Stalking: Legally defined as “a repeated course of conduct intended to cause fear of bodily injury or death.” This is commonly used to include following and/or repeated harassment, regardless of intent.

Visit the Rape Victim Advocacy Program website for further information.