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Ernst Pushes Major Reforms to Confront and Prevent Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence in the Military

The Iowa senator will also seek to learn more about the effects of alternate prosecution models, requesting the Pentagon conduct a review of that approach

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), the first female combat veteran elected to the United States Senate, is putting forward two bipartisan bills with Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) that are focused on expanding support for victims of military sexual assault and domestic violence and providing senior commanders with more oversight responsibilities to most effectively prosecute these serious offenses. 

“Having spent more than 23 years serving in uniform, and as a survivor of sexual assault, I understand the urgent need to tackle the issue of sexual misconduct and domestic violence in our military. The numbers are disappointing, and the way we address this issue must be bipartisan. That’s why I’m glad to team up with Senator Sinema on these bipartisan bills that will not only expand support for victims and servicemembers, but focus on preventing these incidents from happening in the first place,” said Senator Joni Ernst, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

Further, recognizing the persistent problem of sexual assault within the armed forces per a recent Department of Defense (DOD) Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report on Sexual Assault, Senator Ernst will ask the Pentagon to conduct a feasibility assessment on alternate prosecution models that would take prosecutions outside the traditional chain-of-command structure. The Senator’s push for a feasibility study is focused on gathering the practical and logistical information needed to understand the effects of such proposals.

“We know we have to continue to crack down on sexual offenses in the military, and I take this very seriously. Removing sexual assault cases from the chain-of-command would radically shift the way the Pentagon handles these serious offenses. Before making that decision, we should ensure that we have a clear picture of how such a drastic change would impact our servicemembers and whether such a structure would adequately address and prevent sexual assault – which must be our upmost goal,” said Senator Ernst.


The Military Special Victims Protection Act will increase oversight in the prosecution of sexual misconduct and domestic violence cases by providing more senior commanders with decision-making responsibilities. The bill also expands eligibility for Special Victim Counsel services to victims of certain domestic violence offenses, and provides for the correction of military records and discharges for former military members that were survivors of military sexual trauma or intimate partner violence suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). The bill also explores options for ensuring that the best interests of child-victims are protected during legal proceedings. For a one-page summary of the Military Special Victims Protection Act click here.

The second bipartisan bill authored by Senators Ernst and Sinema directs the DOD to create a civilian advisory committee on the prevention of sexual assault. The committee will be made of up to 20 subject matter experts that would advise the Secretary of Defense on ways to implement new programs or improve existing programs dedicated to preventing all forms of sexual misconduct and assault. Additionally, the bill would require commanders to keep victims informed of the status of their cases on a monthly basis until final adjudication. The bill would also allow the military to pay for exceptionally qualified enlisted members to attend law school and join the JAG Corps under the already-existing Funded Legal Education Program.

Senator Ernst plans to request that the Department of Defense (DOD) conduct a feasibility assessment of alternate prosecution models within next week’s National Defense Authorization Act committee consideration.