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Iowa U.S. Senators Join Bipartisan Effort To Change How Military Sexual Assaults Are Prosecuted

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) speaks at a press conference on the U.S. Capitol lawn on 4/29/21.
Sen. Gillibrand Facebook
Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst speaks at a press conference on the U.S. Capitol lawn on Thursday.

Iowa’s two U.S. senators have signed onto a proposal that would reform the way the military justice system handles sexual assault.

Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for a press conference on the U.S. Capitol lawn to talk more about the bill. The New York Democrat wants to remove military commanders from prosecuting service members of sexual assault. Sen. Gillibrand says having commanders in control has discouraged service members from coming forward.

“They still say the one thing that would change their behavior to report more often is if the decision-maker wasn’t in the chain of command so it comes directly from the survivors of recent wars,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “It’s where the data and information about how to write this bill came from.”

The "Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act” would change how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent military prosecutors.

Gillibrand specifically thanks Ernst and says her support will help get the bill passed. Ernst is a retired National Guard Lt. Col. and survivor of sexual assault.

“Once that sexual assault has occurred you can’t go back,” Ernst said at the Thursday press conference. “You can’t change what has happened… As a survivor, you will relive that moment of your life over and over again and I can tell you it’s not positive.”

This proposal comes after years of Sens. Gillibrand and Ernst working together on the bill but it still has a long way to go before the proposed changes would become law.

The bill would also take preventatives measures, including increasing training for all members of the military.

In 2019, there were around 7,800 reports involving service members, NPR reportedon Wednesday. Only 7% of cases pursued resulted in a conviction.

The Thursday press conference also included Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat and retired U.S. Navy captain, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the winner of the 2016 Iowa Republican caucuses.

Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.