The two members of Iowa’s congressional delegation who are military veterans say more must be done to reform how the military justice system handles sexual assault cases.
Policy inserted in a military funding bill makes sexual harassment a crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice for the first time in the history of the U.S. military. However, commanders will still be allowed to choose witnesses AND the jury members who’ll decide such cases. Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak who is a retired Iowa National Guard commander, says while she’s disappointed the policy doesn’t go as far as she’d like, some changes are being made.
“We have seen a number of momentous steps forward, very critical steps forward so that we can help prevent sexual assault and hold accountable those who commit atrocities against our service members,” Ernst says. “but we still have a long ways to go.”
Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottuwma, a Republican who retired after a career in the Army, says while the original proposal was “watered down,” there has been some progress.
“There are individuals, both who have been in the military and who have not but have had a lot of experience with the military, that were concerned about circumventing the chain of command or going through an individual legal process, a prosecutorial process without it going through the chain of command,” Miller-Meeks says. “I think for sexual harassment, that was an important part of the bill and we’ll continue to work on that issue.”
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has supported having independent prosecutors handle sexual assault and sexual harassment cases in the military for more than a decade. Ernst signed onto the proposal this summer.