Republican U.S. Senate nominee Joni Ernst said on Friday that she experienced sexual harassment during her 20 years in the military. In an interview with TIME Magazine, the Iowa candidate described a culture of harassment and said she supported reforms to take sexual assault complaints out of the chain of command.
“I had comments, passes, things like that,” she said. “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 said she does not necessarily endorse the Senate bill championed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), which failed despite broad bipartisan support. The candidate does, however, support investigating sexual assault claims outside of the chain of command, as she announced at the Iowa Federation of Republican Women’s Diamond Anniversary dinner on Friday night. Ahead of the dinner, Ernst released a statement proposing that sexual assault crimes be “independently investigated and the decision whether to prosecute would be made by an independent, experienced prosecutor who is not in the chain of command for the accused or accuser.”
The Pentagon opposes taking these investigations outside the chain of command, even after its own survey found that two-thirds of women were afraid to report assault or harassment. Many victims have come forward in the past year, explaining how they were intimidated or penalized for reporting assault.
Ernst’s Democratic opponent, Bruce Braley, has long professed his support for robust protections for sexual assault victims in the military, releasing an ad recently touting a 2011 bill he sponsored to improve military policies concerning domestic violence and sexual assault in the military.