Iowa Sen. Roby Smith filed Senate File 179 after constituents went through a life-changing experience. The bill would keep Iowa’s age of consent for sexual activity at 16 years old, but it would put in place a 10-year maximum for age difference.
Essentially, a 16-year-old could not have relations with anybody over 26. And a 17-year-old could not have relations with anybody over 27.
Smith read a letter from the family that lived through the problem with current Iowa law, which sets the age of consent at 16 years old and provides no cap.
“Last year our 15-year-old daughter expressed an interest in becoming a pilot,” the letter said. “This caught us off guard, but was exciting.”
The family did research and got her involved in Civil Air Patrol. She began flight lessons with a 40-year-old male instructor.
“Immediately he began a romantic relationship with our 15-year-old daughter,” the letter stated. “Despite asking her several times if she was comfortable being alone with him, she assured us that she was.”
The letter said the student was infatuated with her teacher.
“We later learned that over the course of their short relationship he researched the age of consent law in Iowa with her,” the letter said. “Telling her it was OK and legal once she turned 16 for them to have sex. On her 16th birthday her flight instructor and his wife came to our home to celebrate with our family and extended family.
“Ten days after her 16th birthday they did have sex.”
It was two weeks after her birthday that the author of the letter noticed the flight instructor’s jeep parked down the street of the house where she was dog sitting.
“That was unusual and didn’t feel right, so I stopped in and found this married 40-year-old father of a teenager hiding behind the furnace in the basement,” the letter said. “I was outraged, shocked and felt like I had been punched in the gut. I had personally served my daughter up to a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Davenport police investigated the matter. The 16-year-old told the police about the relationship. The detective stated she did not believe the 16-year-old girl was his first victim.
“No charges were levied against the flight instructor because current Iowa State Law says that it is OK for a 40-year-old man, actually it is OK for anyone of any age, to have a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl,” said the letter. “I’m of the strong opinion that this law is out of touch, antiquated and must be changed before other lives get turned inside out like ours was. Current Iowa State Law failed our daughter, our family and we have no way to get justice or make an example of this man.”
The letter expressed desire to protect Iowa children from “sociopaths” like the instructor.
“I have a 14-year-old daughter, so this also hits home for me,” Smith said.
Keeping the age of consent at 16 avoids conflicts that would arise involving high school students.
“What I wanted to do was come up with a bill that put a 10-year age gap in there,” Smith said. “Once you turn 18, well then there’s no guidelines and basically someone could be 100 years old if they would like. We thought this was a common-sense approach to this situation and we think it’s something the state of Iowa needs to look into. I’m open to discussion — raise (the span), lower (the span). I’ve had people say five years — I’m open to that.”
Police expected to have something to charge the instructor with because often predators will send pictures graphic enough to break a law. But a search warrant yielded nothing illegal.
“He knew the law,” Smith said. “He knew sending a graphic picture was against the law. He knew that he had to wait until she was age 16 to have sex with her. That’s exactly what he did. There was no way the police could get him.”
Democrat Sen. Tony Bisignano said he did not intend to support the bill.
“I don’t see changing the age of consent,” Bisignano said.
Republican Sen. Tom Shipley said he was willing to keep the discussion moving.
“It’s going to take some time to hash it out, but I think it’s worth having a discussion further down the road,” Shipley said.
Fellow Republican Sen. Annette Sweeney joined Shipley in signing to recommend passage.
“I would like to look further into predatory laws,” she said. “Maybe we can work on that with this.”