How Do the Police Protect Victims of Domestic Abuse?

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


Often, police or other law enforcement officers respond to calls for help and have contact with domestic abuse victims in their homes. The Domestic Abuse Act requires these peace officers to protect victims of domestic abuse and enforce the law. The Domestic Abuse Act requires peace officers to do very specific things.

If a peace officer investigates a complaint of domestic abuse and finds probable cause to believe a domestic abuse assault has been committed, the officer must arrest the abuser if:

  • the assault resulted in bodily injury to a victim; or
  • the abuser intended to seriously injure the victim; or
  • a dangerous weapon was used or displayed in connection with the assault; or
  • the abuser is in violation of an order issued under the Domestic Abuse Act, a divorce action, or a criminal action.

If the peace officer is not able to take the abuser into custody within 24 hours, the officer must refer the matter to the county attorney or to a magistrate, who decides what further action should be taken.

Sometimes a peace officer finds that both parties are injured. The peace officer is required to determine who was the primary physical aggressor and arrest that person. A victim who has acted reasonably to defend oneself or another from harm is not subject to arrest. This provision is intended to prevent peace officers from arresting the victim along with the abuser, and recognizes the fact that victims have the right and may try to defend themselves without being subject to arrest. In most cases, a person who tries to help the victim is not liable for any civil damages.

If a peace officer investigates and has probable cause to believe that a domestic abuse assault occurred but the victim was not injured, the officer may arrest the abuser, although is not required to do so.

When an abuser is arrested for domestic abuse assault, he cannot be released from jail until after appearing before a magistrate. The magistrate must issue a "no-contact" order requiring the abuser to stay away from the victim, as a condition of release from jail. The peace officer must also take steps to insure the victim of domestic abuse is safe. A peace officer must remain on the scene as long as necessary to make sure the victim is safe, or help them go to a safe place. A peace officer must help the victim get medical attention if it is needed. A peace officer must give the victim information about local domestic abuse shelters and legal options available to the victim.
The peace officer must find out if there are any no-contact or protective orders in effect against the abuser, and enforce such orders.

Last Review and Update: Sep 22, 2022
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