Perry chiropractor case shows a big gap in the state's sex abuse law

Published: 2011-09-29 14:09:23
Author: Rekha Basu | | September 22, 2011

Iowa laws against sexual assault have come some distance over the years, but glaring gaps in how they are written still prevent justice from being served.

One problem is the limited way in which the state defines “sexual” for purposes of identifying a sexual assault. It’s impossible to write about this without being explicit, so if you’re likely to be offended, you might want to stop reading here.

Masturbating on someone is not considered a sex act in Iowa. Neither is groping a woman’s breasts. So if your doctor -- or anyone else -- engages with your breasts uninvited and when it’s not medically necessary, he or she can’t be charged with sexual abuse. Neither could a Perry chiropractor last year — though he masturbated on a female patient while she lay face down on his table. A Dallas County jury convicted him of misdemeanor assault. Instead of jail, he got only a year of probation, community service and a fine. As far as the criminal justice system is concerned, he might just as well have thrown an object at or punched someone.

The Dallas County attorney had wanted to charge the chiropractor, Daniel Duffy, with sexual abuse but couldn’t because the definition of sexual activity in the Iowa law is limited to contact between the genitals of two or more people, or between one person’s genitals and another’s mouth, anus or hand.

Because Duffy was convicted of only assault rather than sexual abuse, he doesn’t appear on the sex offender registry and isn’t required to get sex offender treatment. The state chiropractic licensing board finally this month stripped him of his license after dragging its feet for eight months. It will be at least five years before he can practice again in Iowa.

But a woman who missed the news stories and encounters him in another context requiring trust might never be forewarned of his predatory sexual proclivity. That flaw in the law doesn’t make him any less in need of treatment or his actions any less creepy.

And then there’s the omission of breasts from the state’s definition of sexual. That gap thwarted justice for two women this column reported on in 2005.

Ironically, their case also involved a chiropractor who, they alleged, had groped their breasts and made sexually suggestive comments when treating them. He even acknowledged in an interview with police that he had held one of the women’s breasts though not required to for her treatment. Though he was initially charged with sexual exploitation, a judge dismissed the charges because of the way Iowa law defines sexual contact.

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