WASHINGTON — As a college student, Joni Ernst spent evenings volunteering at the ACCESS women’s crisis shelter in Ames, where she witnessed firsthand the pain suffered by victims of abuse.

“Oftentimes I felt angry,” Ernst said. “I felt frustrated and helpless, wishing there was more that I could do to stop this from ever happening to them again.”

Now a Republican senator from Iowa, Ernst said similar emotions washed over her as she read about sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of young female gymnasts and the failures by U.S. sports officials to protect those athletes.

“I’d have those same feelings of anger and of frustration from years ago while I was working at that women’s crisis shelter,” Ernst said. “But this time we have the opportunity to do something, do something for these women and for our athletes that represent our nation.”

Ernst was speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday to promote legislation she just introduced with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. It calls for creating a special Senate panel to investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee and national sports governing bodies such as USA Gymnastics.

The intention is to determine how complicit those organizations have been in any sexual abuse committed by employees — to find out who knew what when and why action wasn’t taken sooner.

“The reprehensible actions of this so-called doctor have been exposed, yet there are still so many questions that remain,” Ernst said.

The lawmakers’ proposal requires at least half of the eight-member special committee to be women.

The committee would be tasked with recommending solutions to systemic failures that allowed the sexual abuse to continue for decades; identifying actions to increase transparency; and outlining additional actions required to hold the organizations accountable.

Last week, Ernst and Shaheen called on USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun to resign after reports that he was aware of allegations against Nassar in 2015.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Ernst quoted a recent statement by Iowa native and Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson East that “the fact that a system that is supposed to protect children has failed them so bad is so wrong.”

Ernst praised the courage of the abused athletes who have come forward, saying they have paved the way for real change and accountability.

Now Congress has an obligation to act, Ernst said.

“Enough is enough.”