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Joni Ernst says that she faced sexual harassment in the military

DES MOINES, IA – AUGUST 6: Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, poses for a photo in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, August 6, 2014. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Iowa GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst  said in an interview on Friday that, like countless other women, she faced harassment in the military.

In a Time interview, Ernst, a state senator, said she had unwanted “comments, passes, things like that” directed at her during her two decades of service, including a deployment to Iraq.

“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’s revelations come as her handling of a sexual assault case involving service members under her command have drawn scrutiny. Supporters of her Democratic opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley have raised questions about her approach to the case, according to The Des Moines Register.

Ernst, now a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa national guard,  said in an interview with the paper that it was “important that we make sure that it was investigated.”   The woman ended up recanting her accusations according to documents reviewed by the Register.

Sexual assault in the military has emerged as a prominent issue among the Senate’s 20 women members, with Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) leading a push for changing the way sexual assault cases are handled.

In a break with most members of her party, Ernst said that she backed taking sexual assault investigations out of the chain of command, an approach favored by Gillibrand and a few Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, who backed Gillibrand’s bill. Braley has also endorsed the bill, which failed to overcome a filibuster early this year.  Ernst has not endorsed Gillibrand’s bill, though she told Time that she would work across the aisle with Gillibrand and McCaskill should she make it to the Senate.

Some 26,000 service members faced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, yet only 3,400 reported incidents, according the military.

Ernst told The Des Moines Register:

It is quite possible that I’m going to get push-back from people that I hope to have as Republican colleagues in the Senate, and from military leaders also, but I’m not doing this to go against them. What I am doing is saying: This is a problem. It has not been resolved in the past couple decades. If we were handling it properly in the military, we would not have the issues that we have today.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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