Sexual Assault and Civil Legal Remedies

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
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What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault can happen in many different ways. Rape is one form of sexual assault. There are many other forms that it may take. Sexual assault can include any of the following:

  • Someone making you to do something sexually that you do not feel comfortable doing;
  • Someone touching you in a sexual way when you do not want them to do so;
  • Someone pressuring you to have sex when you do not want to;
    Someone making you fear for your safety if you do not have sex with them;
  • Someone restraining you during sex against your wishes, even if you consented to sex initially;
  • Someone physically hurting you during sex;
  • Someone forcing you to have sex as a way to "make up" after they have been physically violent towards you; or
  • Someone using sex as a way to demean you;

What if I do not want to call the police?

There are still some ways the law can help you, even if you do not want to file criminal charges. If the person who assaulted you is one of the following, you may be able to get a Civil Protective Order to keep the person away:

  • a spouse or former spouse;
  • someone you are/were in an intimate relationship with (this does not require that the relationship be a sexual one);
  • the other parent of one of your children; or
  • a family member or household member that you either live with or have lived with at some time in the last year.

How is a Civil Protective Order different from a criminal no contact order?

With a Civil Protective Order:

  • You do not have to file a report of the assault with the police.
  • The abuser is not arrested and does not face criminal charges.
  • The person filing for the protective order is the only one that can ask the court to drop the order.
  • You can make it fit your situation. You can ask the court to change it if your situation changes. For example, if you want to go to counseling with a partner who has sexually abused you, you can file for a modification that lets you be in contact with the abuser, for counseling purposes only. A criminal no contact order does not allow any contact between the two parties.
  • You can deal with issues that a criminal no contact order does not. The order can grant temporary custody of children, and can set up visitation and child support. It can let you stay in the family home, and give you use of a vehicle you may share with the abuser.
  • You can ask the court to make it last longer if you need to.

How is a Civil Protective Order the same as a No Contact Order?

The civil protective order has the same effect as the police filing a no contact order. The defendant can be arrested and face criminal charges for disobeying the order.

What if the abuser does not fall into one of the categories for a civil protective order?

Your attacker could be a co-worker, a friend, or someone you didn't know. You may still be able to get a civil injunction that could make them stay away from you. An injunction is a court order. It can order the other person not to do something, and/or to stop doing something. In this case, the order could tell your attacker not to contact you, or to stop calling/harassing/following you.

I have issues that cannot be addressed through going to the police or getting a protective order. Is there any other help I can get?

A sexual assault can disrupt many parts of your life. Many of these are not resolved by pressing criminal charges, or may develop because of criminal prosecution. A Protective Order or Civil Injunction may keep your attacker from contacting you. It may not help with other problems that result from the assault. Iowa Legal Aid may be able to help you with the following problems that can result from sexual assault:


  • Ending your lease, if staying makes you less safe
  • Getting a transfer to another property or apartment
  • Fighting an eviction
  • Other safety concerns


  • Getting employment benefits such as short-term disability, Family Medical Leave Act leave, sick leave, or taking a leave of absence until you are able to return to work
  • Getting unemployment if you are unable to return to work
  • Getting accommodations, especially when your attacker was a co-worker, or knows where/when you work
  • Working with your employer to ensure safety
  • Dealing with harassment or retaliation when your attacker was a co-worker
  • Protecting your privacy
  • Enforcing a Protective Order or getting a "stay away" order in the workplace where the attacker is co-worker


  • by administration or classmates

What if I want to sue my attacker, employer, school, or landlord for allowing an unsafe environment that I believe led to my assault?

You may be able to sue your attacker for damages. You may get money for mental, physical, or actual damages (such as payment for medical bills).

You may be able to sue your employer, school, or landlord. They may have done something or not done something that made it more likely that you could be assaulted.

All of these cases are "fee generating." This means an attorney can earn a fee from any damages that you receive. Many attorneys take these cases on a contingency fee basis. This means you do not pay the attorney up front, but the attorney gets a portion of your money (typically one-third) plus out-of-pocket expenses. Iowa Legal Aid does not represent clients in these types of cases. The Iowa State Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service can provide the name or names of lawyers who can consult and advise you for no more than $25 for the first 30 minutes. The phone number for the ISBA Lawyer Referral Service is 515-280-7429.

Other Resources:

Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault or (515) 244-7424

Iowa CASA can also help with information, representation, and referrals for legal issues related to sexual assault. Iowa CASA can only represent clients in non-criminal cases. These can include family, juvenile and immigration matters.

Iowa Attorney General's Office, Crime Victim Compensation Fund or (800) 373-5044

This office can get money for victims of violent crimes, for costs related to the crime. This can include medical care, mental health care, lost wages because of bodily injuries, loss of support for dependents, and replacing clothing and bedding held as evidence by law enforcement.

MUNA Legal Clinic
(515) 244-2117

MUNA Legal Clinic can help immigrant survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and trafficking with their immigration issues and some family law issues.

An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid Resource Center

Provides information and resources for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking.

Iowa Advocacy for Survivors Project is supported by Grant #2005-WL-AX-0018, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Last Review and Update: Oct 28, 2011

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