Understanding Iowa’s, home state’s sexual harassment laws


in this together

Ally Frickel

Trigger warning: This content uses language that may trigger sexual assault survivors.

Sexual assault is a complex and horrible issue. It is personal, it is heartbreaking and it is different in every case. But if we ever want to put an end to sexual assault, we have to stop letting its complexity get in our way.
This is the ninth story in a semester-long series where the Daily will publish a multitude of stories related to sexual assault, including discussions about various resources survivors can obtain if they are comfortable doing so. 
— Emily Barske, editor in chief 

As with many criminal acts, the aspects of sexual harassment may be confusing to understand for people with little to no background in legal jargon. One of the most important things to know is that it can take place anywhere, including at college and the workplace.

When it comes to identifying healthy interactions, Beth Mensing, comprehensive sexual health educator at Planned Parenthood, believes recurring education is vital.

“I think there should be something available every year, K-12, that’s addressing healthy relationships, consent, decision-making,” Mensing said in a previous Iowa State Daily article.

Iowa State’s Office of Institutional Research reported in fall 2016 that among the 30,671 undergraduate students, 26,590 students were from either Iowa or bordering states. But not all states have the same laws. 

How law enforcement addresses sexual harassment in Ames and surrounding cities likely differs from how they handle it in surrounding states.  

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) said sexual harassment can occur anywhere and by anyone. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not two completely different things, either, according to RAINN. Sexual harassment encompasses sexual assault.

Those who have experienced sexual assault may have, therefore, also experienced sexual harassment.

Jazzmine Hudson, sexual misconduct prevention coordinator, hopes to create an engaging and interactive program to educate students about sexual misconduct.

“I’m not about changing minds, but I’m about changing the environment to where people know they can’t commit these crimes and to make a safer climate for people,” Hudson previously said at a GPSS meeting.

Iowa State University discrimination, sexual harassment

The Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) said sexual harassment is verbal, visual or physical.

“Sexual harassment can also consist of persistent, unwelcome attempts to change a professional or academic relationship to a romantic or sexual one. It can range from unwelcome sexual expressions directed at individual persons or classes of people to serious physical abuses such as sexual assault,” according to the ISU Policy Library.

Sexual harassment can be implicit or explicit, according to the OEO. 

Sexual harassment, according to the policy library, meets criteria of:

  • “Submission or consent to the behavior is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or education.”

  • Creating a “hostile, intimidating or demeaning environment” that interferes or denies participation of “education activities and benefits or employment opportunities.”

Iowa (61.81 percent of Iowa State’s undergraduate students)

According to Iowa Code 708.7, harassment is “with intent to intimidate, annoy, or alarm another person …”

Such instances include but are not limited to: potentially harmful or annoying communication and having unwarranted things delivered to someone.

Ames Police Cmdr. Geoff Huff said harassment can include any unwanted contact in the forms of texts, emails, and verbal and physical harassment. There is no charge for sexual harassment, but this falls under the harassment charge.

“[The harassment code] doesn’t define what the harassment is,” Huff said. “It’s more based on what is the harassment and whether that is … bothersome to the victim. Is it threatening in nature? Is it unwanted?” 

Charges for harassment in Iowa are split into first, second and third degrees. 

The first degree, aggravated misdemeanor, is “involving a threat to commit a forcible felony…” in Iowa and is the most serious sexual harassment charge.

The second degree, serious misdemeanor, is “involving a threat to commit bodily injury…” in Iowa.

Third degree, simple misdemeanor, is any other act of harassment, including cases of sexual harassment and is the least serious sexual harassment charge.

Illinois (12.28 percent of Iowa State’s undergraduate students)

In Illinois, sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or any conduct of sexual nature.

The main categories of sexual harassment are verbal, non-verbal, visual and physical, according to the the Illinois Human Rights Act.

  • Verbal: sexual innuendos, suggestive comments, insults, jokes and humor about sex, threats, repeated requests for dates, statements about other employees, etc.

  • Non-verbal: whistling, leering, obscene gestures, sexually suggestive bodily structures, “catcalls” and kissing noises. In other words, non-verbal sexual harassment can be seen as non-physical and provocative annoyances.

  • Visual: signs, posters, sexual slogans, viewing pornographic material or websites.

  • Physical: touching, unwelcome gestures, any coerced sexual act or sexual assault.

The Illinois Human Rights Act also describes “textual/electronic” as a category of sexual harassment, and is one of the only states to do so. Things that fall in this category include sexting, explicit language, cyberstalking and “threats via all forms of electronic communication.”

Minnesota (9.64 percent of Iowa State’s undergraduate students)

Minnesota code 609.748 includes, but is not limited to, harassment as a “single incident of physical or sexual assault,” stalking, “non-consensual dissemination of private sexual images,” multiple incidents of unwanted acts of any kind.

If someone is a victim of harassment, they can seek a restraining order by the state of Minnesota. A restraining order by court jurisdiction can also be followed by a relief.

Possible penalties, according to the ORS website, include:

  • Gross Misdemeanor: violation of restraining order within 10 years of other “qualified” domestic violence-related offense conviction or “adjudication of delinquency.”

  • Imprisonment of no more than five years or fine of no more than $10,000 if the person is guilty of a felony.

  • Prosecution in any of the counties involved if violated in two or more counties.

  • Peace officer arrest without warrant.

  • Contempt in court.

Wisconsin (1.88 percent of Iowa State’s undergraduate students)

In Wisconsin, under the Fair Employment Law, there are two instances where harassment “may be illegal”: singling a person out and the content of harassment.

Sexual harassment, in Wisconsin, is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature.

The two foremost acts of harassment, according to the state of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, is Quid Pro Quo ― demeaning sexual behavior in award for salary increase or other award ― and hostile environment ― verbal, nonverbal or physical behavior “focusing on sexuality [that] is severe and persuasive enough to interfere with the victim’s work performance.”

Verbal acts in Wisconsin are categorized as sexual jokes, insults, comments on the person’s body and/or sex life and sexually demeaning comments.

Nonverbal, but not physical, acts include staring, gestures and sexually-suggesting “gifts” or materials that may be uncomfortable to the person.

Physical acts include touching, hugging, kissing, patting, brushing against the person, blocking the person’s way and/or sexual assault.

Nebraska (1.09 percent of Iowa State’s undergraduate students)

According to Nebraska Legislature, harassment is engaging in “knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person.”

The legislature provides the examples of stalking, telephoning, contacting or communicating with the person.

Nebraska Legislature states in chapter 28, section 311.09 that any victim of harassment may file a petition and affidavit for harassment protection against the perpetuator of the harassment, referred to as the pursuant. The court may issue protection upon filing for the petition.

The pursuant may be arrested if a peace officer believes they have violated the harassment order. 

Andrew Cubit, risk prevention officer for the Interfraternity Council, doesn’t want to see discussions on sexual misconduct die, according to an earlier interview.

“If we can get the community to be constantly educating and following up on the information,” Cubit said, “I think we can see a drastic change in the amount of incidents happening.”