WASHINGTON—Yesterday, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), spoke on the Senate floor to encourage her fellow lawmakers to join her in working to combat sexual assault.

On the floor of the Senate, Ernst highlighted a number of her legislative efforts to confront the issue of sexual assault, to include the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bill that she recently reintroduced with Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). In addition, Senator Ernst called for action on the part of the Senate to combat this issue that has touched so many women and men in Iowa and across the country.

Click here or on the image above to watch the Senator’s speech.

Below are Senator Ernst’s remarks.

“I rise today to focus on a serious issue that has plagued our society and impacted the lives of so many people across our great nation: sexual assault.

“During my time at Iowa State University, I served as a volunteer counselor at a crisis center that provided shelter and support to survivors of abuse and sexual assault.

“I heard so many gut wrenching stories of women, and of men, fleeing domestic abusers, suffering not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.

“Taking calls on our hotline from people that had been raped and sexually abused was absolutely heartbreaking.

“Abuse is not something you can just simply forget – it stays with you forever. And I know this personally.

“As a survivor and as a United States Senator, I feel it is important to be a voice for the thousands of victims across Iowa—and so many more across our nation—who have fallen prey to sexual assault, to rape, to harassment, and other forms of abuse.  

“Our country is facing a mental health crisis, and one cannot help but feel that these issues are all too often interwoven into the stories of so many Americans.

“April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As lawmakers, it is a stark reminder that we must take a long hard look at how we can combat this problem and take real steps to confront sexual assault in our society.

“Just last week, with my colleagues Senator Grassley and Senator Gillibrand and others, we reintroduced a bipartisan bill to combat sexual assault on our college and university campuses.

“Our bipartisan measure will make campuses in Iowa safer and ensure victims are fairly heard by changing the way our universities handle sexual assault cases.

“But it’s not just these young men and women at these institutions who have been victimized.

“Like so many of you, I was horrified, absolutely horrified, to hear of the crimes committed by Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who abused hundreds of young athletes.

“The actions of Nassar, and the individuals and institutions that facilitated and then protected his behavior, are inexcusable.

“The cases were also symptomatic of broader problems our society faces on sexual assault, rape, harassment, and abuse—leaving women and men, young and old, vulnerable.

“These types of failures are the reasons I have worked with my colleagues in Congress on reforms to ensure sexual misconduct is reported, responded to, taken seriously, and, ideally, prevented.

“For instance, we introduced a bill to require the governing bodies of U.S. amateur athletic organizations to immediately report sex-abuse allegations to local or federal law enforcement, or a child-welfare agency.

“But the work doesn’t end with our educational and athletic institutions. We must challenge people to do better, to protect people from these horrendous actions. 

“In the case of the military, the Department of Defense should take a stronger posture in terms of preventing sexual assault within its ranks. I say this as a former company commander and a retired lieutenant colonel.

“While there have been concrete steps taken to improve the safety of our servicemembers, there is more that we can and we should do to protect our men and women in uniform and change the overall culture.

“The message I hear all too often is that victims in our armed services have a fear of retaliation.

“And folks, this is absolutely unacceptable.

“Those who report sexual assault should not fear coming forward, and those who retaliate against individuals should be punished to the full extent of the law.

“I helped author a bill to make retaliation its own unique offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and fortunately for our service members, this bill is now law.

“It is my hope that Congress can continue to work on legislation that addresses these issues. 

“While my personal story certainly does play a role in my passion for change, so also do the stories and faces of men and women back home in Iowa. Every single one of them. With that face, with that name, with that heart, and with that soul. It’s their stories that push me to want to make real and lasting change.

“Whether it’s working with Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee Senator Feinstein to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, or fighting to reduce the abuse of females in custody through legislation with Senators Booker and Blumenthal, combatting sexual assault should be bipartisan, and something we all can agree on.

“I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues toward ending sexual assault once and for all.

“This issue will continue to plague us until we come together and take concrete steps to address it. We all can, and must, do better.

“This month, as we raise awareness of sexual assault, I hope to see this body taking real and lasting action.

“Thank you.”