Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst. (file photo)

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is defending her vote against a measure to address sexual assault in the military. The amendment to a defense authorization bill was rejected Tuesday by an 11-vote margin. It would have taken the commanding officer out of the decision to prosecute rape crimes.

Ernst says a recent survey shows military personnel are expressing more trust in their commanding officers. “There is progress being made. Should there be a time in the future that we need to make a more difficult decision by taking it out of the chain of command, we will face that at that time,” Ernst told Iowa reporters today in a conference call.

Ernst led the way for other recent reforms, including protection against retaliation for those reporting assaults and independent counsel for alleged victims. “They do have somebody independent that they can go to…to talk through the moves that need to be made as far as what available resources are out there and how to go about the prosecution process,” Ernst said.

A study released last month, sponsored by the Pentagon, found reports of sexual assault in the military have declined by 27 percent over the past two years. Ernst is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard.