Washington, D.C. — Military commanders would no longer decide whether soldiers accused of sexual assault are prosecuted under a proposal Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst are supporting.

Ernst, a veteran of the Iowa National Guard, says sexual assault has plagued the military for too long and it makes sense to have neutral party make the decision.

(As above) “I’m a former commander, but I’m also a survivor of sexual assault,” Ernst says. “I understand the traumatic events too many of our survivors have faced.”

Under the plan that will be considered in a Senate committee, commanders will be notified of pending cases, but it will be prosecutors in the military justice system who decide if charges will be filed when a soldier accuses another soldier of sexual assault.

(As above) “To help ensure survivors are treated with the dignity, the respect and the justice that they so deserve,” Ernst said.

The bill also calls for more training and education that Ernst says will hopefully prevent sexual assaults from being committed in the first place. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, has been working for eight years to build a coalition in the senate to address the issue. During a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday, Gillibrand noted Senator Grassley was the first Republican to back her effort. Grassley says the time has arrived for action.

(As above) “It looks like we’re going to have a success this year…If you’re right, eventually win out in the congress of the United States and this is a perfect example of your hard work paying off, maybe longer than it should have, but paying off now,” Grassley said. “Sexual assault cannot be tolerated anyplace, but particularly in the military.”

Gillibrand also credited Senator Ernst for her work on the policy and her recent effort to line up the votes to get it passed.

(As above) “She knows that this system is fundamentally broken,” Gillibrand said, “so her leadership today is extremely meaningful.”

Ernst previously opposed taking the decision to prosecute out of the chain of command, but Ernst says she has decided to support the change because the problem of sexual assault in the military has gotten worse. Last year 14 officers at an Army base in Texas were fired or suspended after an independent report found a culture of violence and sexual assault at Fort Hood. Ernst says she’s talking with three other senators and within the next week she and Gillibrand expect to have 60 senators as co-sponsors of the proposal. Ernst and Gillibrand both serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. They intend to insert the Military Justice Improvement plan into the committee’s annual National Defense Authorization Act.

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