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Iowa legislators consider criminalizing ‘creepy’ adult relationships with teens

Iowa legislators consider criminalizing ‘creepy’ adult relationships with teens

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DES MOINES — Creepy or criminal?

A House subcommittee wrestled — briefly — with that question Wednesday when considering a bill motivated by a 40-year-old flight instructor’s sexual relationship with his 16-year-old student.

“I think it’s creepy,” Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said.

Kaufmann was running the bill at the request of a Scott County family that was frustrated the instructor could not be prosecuted under current law.

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According to the family, the instructor waited until girl, who began flight lessons at 15, reached the Iowa age of legal consent to initiate the sexual relationship.

“There are lots of creepy things that aren’t crimes,” Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said.

“It’s our responsibility to determine where creepy crosses the line,” Kaufmann said.

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Kaufmann, Wolfe and Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant — who said that if a 22-year-old starts dating his soon-to-be 16-year-old daughter, “my shotgun will be out” — agreed the bill needs significant work, but sent it to the full Judiciary Committee. A companion bill, Senate File 584, was approved by a Senate subcommittee in 2019.

As written, House File 2248 is not consistent with Iowa code regarding other sex crimes, Wolfe said.

Under the bill, a person who engages in sexual activity with a person who is 16 or 17 years of age would be guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor if they are not cohabiting with the consent of the teen’s parents and the person is 27 years of age or older.

In other cases, there are special sentences as well as a requirement that the offender be listed on the sex offender registry. If the Legislature adopts this proposal, Wolfe said, it should be consistent with existing law.

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“If you want to warn other people about them, put them on the sex offender registry,” Wolfe said.

There may be a better basis for determining whether a sexual relationship should be criminal, Wolfe said. Rather than using the age of consent or the difference in age between the perpetrator and the victim, she suggested considering the fiduciary responsibility of an adult in a relationship with a minor. That could be applied to teachers, coaches and other adults in relationships with minors if they become sexual.

Lobbyists representing prosecutors, the bar association and civil rights groups questioned the inconsistencies between the proposal and existing state law, including using 27 as the jumping off point.

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ACLU-Iowa, which is undecided on the bill, pointed out that age differences between participants in sexual relationships may differ in some cultures, including the LGBTQ community.

“We could do some work on it,” Lohse said before the subcommittee moved it to the full committee with an agreement to work on an amendment.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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