Tags: 2014 Midterm Elections | Joni Ernst | military | sexual harassment

Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst: I Was Sexually Harassed in the Military

By Todd Beamon   |   Friday, 15 Aug 2014 07:25 PM

Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst said Friday that she was sexually harassed in the armed forces and would support bipartisan legislation to remove such cases out of the military chain of command if she were elected to serve in the U.S. Senate as a Republican.

"I had comments, passes, things like that," Ernst, who is running against Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley to replace the retiring Tom Harkin, told Time. "These were some things where I was able to say stop and it simply stopped, but there are other circumstances both for women and for men where they don’t stop and they may be afraid to report it."

Ernst, 44, has served 21 years in the military. She is a lieutenant colonel and battalion commander in the Iowa Army National Guard. Ernst also served in the Army Reserves.

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Last month, she gave the Republican response to President Barack Obama's weekly address and then deployed to Iraq with her battalion for two weeks.

Ernst served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and her National Guard battalion is the largest in the state, Time reports. She has been in the Iowa Senate since 2011.

If elected in November, she would become the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate.

Ernst spoke with Time as she prepared to deliver the keynote address at the Iowa Federation of Republican Women’s Diamond Anniversary dinner in Sioux City. She told the magazine that she spent two years volunteering at a battered women’s shelter while in college.

"This legislation must ensure that sexual crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted," Ernst said in a draft of her speech that her staff provided to Time. "This will not be an easy challenge. I understand many in my own party in Washington will oppose this plan, as will many in the military and Pentagon.

"However, this should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now," Ernst said.

Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sponsored legislation that would send all sexual harassment cases to the Judge Advocates General Corps. The bill died in March after failing to get five votes to break a filibuster.

The Democrat vows to bring up the legislation again, Time reports.

Ernst told the magazine that she did not support that legislation, but she vowed to work "with Sen. Gillibrand and other Senate leaders in seeking bipartisan support for new legislation."

She would like to see a bill that would, instead, refer all reports of sexual assault to an outside independent investigator — and if charges are determined, send those cases to "an independent, experienced prosecutor," Ernst said in her draft.

Harkin backed Gillibrand's bill. So did 11 members of the GOP.

Braley, who has TV spots running about a bill he sponsored to protect sexual-assault victims, also spoke in favor of the Gillibrand legislation when it was failed to advance in the Senate.

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