The Iowa Legislature is moving to crack down on domestic abuse involving unmarried couples.

The Senate voted unanimously this week to classify assault that occurs in an intimate relationship as domestic abuse. Senator Herman Quirmbach of Ames says a conviction would then require the batterer to spend 48 hours in jail and force them to go to a batterer’s treatment program. 

“This bill helps to curtail domestic abuse at the earliest stage and thereby may help prevent later suffering and tragedy,” Quirmbach says. “…I believe that violent behavior that arises within a relationship setting should be addressed as early as possible. We have to convey in early stages that such behavior is unacceptable and we must provide intervention to prevent from abusive situations from repeating and escalating. This bill is a significant step toward both these goals.”

Unlike other assault charges, domestic abuse penalties increase for repeat violations.  “A domestic abuse assault conviction carries a mandatory two-day jail sentence. Second, penalties escalate for repeat domestic assaults and I think domestic situations are more likely to repeat than ordinary assaults. Third, a person convicted of an assault in a dating relationship would under this bill be required to participate in a batter’s treatment program in all cases,” Quirmbach says. “Currently treatment in such cases is left to the discretion of the court.”

State law already allows the courts to issue domestic abuse protective orders against a dating partner or a live-in partner who is not someone’s spouse.