Iowa Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Joni Ernst said she had been sexually harassed in the military and supports removing sexual assault cases from the military’s chain of command.
“I had comments, passes, things like that,” Ernst told TIME magazine. “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 was deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2004 and is a member of the Iowa National Guard.
TIME also said Ernst is expected to formally endorse removing sexual assault cases from the military chain of command during a speech at the Iowa Federation of Republican Women’s Diamond Anniversary dinner on Friday.
“The legislation must ensure that sexual assault crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted,” Ernst said in a draft of the speech obtained by 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’s position would put her against many in the Republican Party. Ernst would like for reports of sexual harassment to be referred to an independent investigator who isn’t in the chain of command. And, in the case of a case that warrants criminal charges, an “independent” and experiences prosecutor would take over, according to TIME. Her concept sounds similar to a bill proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Notably, she isn’t formally endorsing Gillibrand’s legislation that would send cases of sexual harassment to the Judge Advocates General Corps instead of keeping it in the chain of command. But Ernst did say she would work with Gillibrand and other senators on bipartisan legislation on the issue.
Gillibrand’s bill to move the sexual assault cases outside of the chain of command just barely failed to break a Senate filibuster in March — coming up five votes short.
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), the Democratic nominee in the Senate race, previously endorsed Gillibrand’s bill.
Braley also has a television ad out in Iowa touting legislation he sponsored meant to strengthen protections for the victims of sexual assault in the military.