Sexual Assault and Civil Legal Remedies

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Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid

What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault can happen in many different ways. At its core, sexual assault is a sex act done by force or against the will of the victim. This includes when “consent” is procured by threats of violence, or when the victim cannot consent because of an incapacity that prevents them from being able to give consent. 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?
The law can help you, even if you do not want to file criminal charges. You may be able to get a Civil Protective Order (CPO)to keep the person away, and provide other remedies to help keep you safe. There are two types of CPO cases:

  • Chapter 236 proceedings can be used by victims of domestic and/or sexual abuse, but the abuser must be an “intimate partner”. An intimate partner is:
    • 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.
  • Chapter 236A proceedings can be used by victims of sexual abuse, regardless of whether the abuser is an intimate partner or not.
    • The abuser can also be someone you work with, go to school with, know as an acquaintance, is in a position of authority over you (including law enforcement), or someone you don’t know.

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. If you share children with the abuser, 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 for care of family pets.
  • 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.


How do I get a Protective Order Against the Sexual Abuser?

You can file a petition with the Clerk of Court to ask for a protection order. Turning in this petition is the way a victim asks the court to protect him or her by telling the abuser to not have contact with the victim. A victim can either fill out the petition alone, with help from a local sexual assault program, or with the help of an attorney.

The petition asks the victim to explain what type of abuse happened recently and in the past. A victim does not have to pay anything to file a petition asking for a protection order.

After the victim turns in the petition to the Clerk of Court, it is reviewed by a judge. A judge looks at what the victim wrote in the petition. The judge only has what the victim writes to decide whether to issue a temporary protection order. Certain facts must be in the petition for the judge to grant the temporary protection order.

  1. If the judge orders the temporary protection order, this tells the abuser to not have any further contact with the victim, and sets the date/time for the final hearing.
  • The hearing will usually be set in 7-10 (no more than 15) days from the time the petition was filed.
  • A copy of the temporary order is given to the victim and to the sheriff's department.
    • The Sheriff's department will serve the abuser with the order.
    • The order becomes effective once the abuser has been served with the order.
  • The temporary order will be effective until the judge hears the case, and issues a final decision.
  • The Clerk of Court will schedule the hearing date and time.
  • This information will be on the second page of the temporary protection order
  • If there is a problem serving the abuser, the hearing would be rescheduled.

2. If a temporary protection order is not granted, the judge should still set the case for a    hearing.

  • The abuser would be served with notice of a hearing date.
  • At the hearing, the judge would decide whether to enter a protection order.

A victim can go to court with or without a lawyer. If a victim wants an attorney and cannot afford to pay for one, he/she should contact Iowa Legal Aid. Iowa Legal Aid provides free legal advice to low-income Iowans who qualify and may also be able to represent victims in a protection order hearing. Advocates often go with victims to their court hearings. While these advocates are not attorneys and cannot represent victims in court, they can help with forms, explain the process, and also go with victims to court hearings.

What to Expect at the Hearing:

Several things can happen at the hearing, depending on what the abuser chooses.

1. The abuser may not show up.

  • If the abuser does not come, then the judge can grant a protection order to the victim or ask for additional testimony.

2. The abuser may come to the hearing and agree to stay away from the victim.

  • This is called a consent agreement.
  • A consent agreement protection order will need both the victim and the abuser to agree to the terms or the judge will have to hear testimony and decide for the parties.
  • If both parties agree on everything, neither the victim nor the abuser will need to testify in court.
  • A victim does not have to consent to an order.
    • Victims have the right to be heard in court on what they believe should be ordered if the parties cannot agree.
  • The advantage to the victim of agreeing to a consent agreement is that the victim will be sure to get the protection order.
    • The judge will not have to decide whether to issue an order.
  • The advantage to an abuser is that a judge does not make a specific finding that the abuser has committed sexual abuse.

3. The abuser can disagree that abuse happened and ask for a hearing. The judge will start the hearing, making a record of what happens.

  • The victim must testify and give evidence first.
    • The victim has the burden to prove the abuser committed sexual abuse  or threatened to sexually abuse the victim.
    • The victim will have to describe the abuse and why the abuser makes him/her afraid.
    • The victim can also use witness testimony, documents, electronic evidence, and/or pictures to explain the abuse.
  • The abuser also has the right to testify, cross-examine witnesses, and give evidence.
  • The victim has the right to cross-examine the abuser and/or the abuser’s witnesses.
  • Then the judge decides whether to grant a protection order..

The civil protection order signed by the judge can be effective for up to one year. Copies of the protection order are served on the victim and the defendant and are given to law enforcement agencies.

Where the abuser is an intimate partner, victims often choose to file for a domestic abuse protection order, if they are victims of both domestic and sexual abuse by the same person. This allows them to provide more information about the past abuse. In some cases, victims of intimate partner abuse choose to file for a sexual abuse protection order, if they are concerned they will not be able to prove that the relationship is an “intimate” one.


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 under the Domestic Abuse Act or Sexual Abuse Act 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 in the workplace where the attacker is a co-worker
  • Enforcing a Protective Order at school where the attacker is a classmate


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 Find A Lawyer 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. Get information at

Other Resources:

Iowa Victim Service Call Center

Contact (800) 770-1650 or text “IowaHELP” to 20121 for free and confidential services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault Iowa CASA can 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   (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.


Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 


To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Mar 14, 2023
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