Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst revealed in an interview with TIME that she was harassed while serving in the military – and has a plan for how cases should be handled, saying “we must act now.”
“I had comments, passes, things like that,” she shared in the interview published Friday. ”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, a state senator and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, served in the military for over 20 years. If elected, she will become the first female combat veteran in the senate and will be an advocate for moving sexual assault cases outside the military’s chain of command, despite opposition she may face from the Republican Party.
The Republican candidate will be addressing sexual assault in the military on Friday at the Iowa Federation of Republican Women’s Diamond Anniversary dinner.
“This legislation must ensure that sexual crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted,” Ernst wrote in the draft of her speech she shared withTIME.
“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.”
In May, the Pentagon released an annual report which showed reports of sexual assault among members of the armed services have jumped 50%. The Defense Department reported that of the 26,00 sexual assaults in the military, less than 3,400 incidents were reported.
Ernst joins the White House, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., among others, law enforcement, and college campuses in the increased effort to fight the epidemic of sexual assault.
According to her staff, Ernst doesn’t support Senator Kirsten Gilibrand’s sexual assault bill – which failed to pass in the Senate in March by five votes – though Ernst has vowed to work with her and “other Senate leaders in seeking bipartisan support for new legislation.”