Senate candidate Joni Ernst says she was harassed in the military
August 15th, 2014
06:21 PM ET
2 months ago

Senate candidate Joni Ernst says she was harassed in the military

(CNN) – Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst said Friday she was sexually harassed during her time in the military.

Currently a Republican state senator and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, Ernst told various news outlets that she experienced unwanted attention while serving in the Army and, if elected, will work to overhaul how sexual assault cases are handled in the armed forces.

“I had comments, passes, things like that,” Ernst told TIME. “These were some things where I was able to say stop and it simply stopped, but there are other circumstances both for women and for men where they don’t stop and they may be afraid to report it.”

CNN reached out to Ernst's campaign to confirm the comments.

She is slated to speak on the issue of sexual assault in the military at the Iowa Federation of Republican Women’s Diamond Anniversary dinner on Friday.

In a statement, Ernst said she would work with Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York who's been pushing for legislation to take the authority for prosecuting sexual assault in the military out of the chain of command - a position Ernst said she backs.

In that statement, Ernst also acknowledged the inevitable hurdle of gaining support for this position within the Republican Party.

"This will not be an easy challenge. I understand many in my own party in Washington will oppose this plan, as will many in the military and Pentagon," she said. "However, this should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now.”

Ernst told the Des Moines Register that she's "...not doing this to go against (her party)"

"What I am doing is saying: 'This is a problem. It has not been resolved in the past couple decades. If we were handling it properly in the military, we would not have the issues that we have today,'" she said.

The issue has become a major concern for the Pentagon.

Figures released by the Defense Department in May showed a sharp year-over-year increase in the number of sex assault reports in the military. The Pentagon said the 50% jump was largely due to steps to encourage more people to come forward.

Congress has taken steps to address the matter, including legislation approved by the Senate this year that would impose modest reforms to strengthen prosecution.

But Gillibrand's proposal to remove commanders from deciding whether subordinates should be prosecuted was not adopted.

If elected, Ernst would be the first female combat veteran in Senate history. She severed as a company commander in 2003 in Iraq.

Key races to watch in 2014

Polls show that she’s in a tight race with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in the battle to succeed longtime Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who is retiring at the end of the year.

If the Republicans can flip Harkin's seat and five other Democratic held seats, they would win control of the Senate.

CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2014 • Iowa • Joni Ernst
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Donna

    Sorry Democrats, your dirty little anti-women tricks aren't going to work against Joni. She is a highly intelligent woman who has served her country honorably and she will be the next Senator from Iowa. Yes, she will win the woman vote, which just terrifies the left wing Democrats. Obama and the Democrats are watching the Senate slip away, seat by seat by seat.

    You can all send your thank you cards to the failed policies of Obama and the rotten, corrupt obstruction of Harry Reid. It will be such a good day for this country when that little weasel of a man gets removed as Majority leader. Democrats really do need to get somebody to lead them in the Senate who isn't a senile old fool that says dumb, malicious things. And Nevada, you need to step up to the plate and get rid of the old fool for good.

    August 16, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  2. J Anthony

    Why do Republicans completely ignore issues that concern women the most? Why are they such hypocrites? Why do anti-choice morons like Tony D here seem so concerned about the unborn but couldn't care less about the already-born?

    August 16, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  3. The Real Tom Paine

    You know, there is not a shred of credit being given Ernst for saying that she would work against her party on this issue. The reason why she's not being given credit is because she is willing to work against her party, who still tries to divert attention from their miserable record on women's issues by talking about disgraced Democrats. Need I remind people that it was a Republican from TX who stated that "...rape is like the weather: if you can't do anything about it, just lie back and enjoy it". The GOP is in no position to talk about Democrats hating women when they have such intolerance for dissent in their ranks that Thad Cochran had to appeal to Democrats in an open primary to keep the latest throwback from being nominated. The comments Mitch McConnell made about his opponent looking like a cheerleader should give anyone pause about the claims that the GOP really is an inclusive party. As for Ernst, she has plenty of other issues to explain herself on, like income inequality that affect women as much as sexual assault.

    August 16, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. The Real Tom Paine

    What has Ernst actually done in political life to warrant being nominated to the Senate? Aside from her military career, what has she done that makes anyone think she is ready? Is it that the GOP is simply looking for Sarah Palin-type clones, who really have nothing to contribute? Aside from castrating hogs and serving in the National Guard, what would she bring to make our lives better? All I've heard from her are a bunch of catch phrases and promises to do whatever her donors/backers tell her to do, and the issue of sexual assault in the military is the ONLY place I've seen her deviate from the fanatical, cult-like views of the whack-job chorus. I guess the GOP wants their candidates to serve for a short a period of time as possible, because very few of them are smart or have the experience to understand the ramifications of what they are proposing, and they know they will get bounced out at the first available opportunity unless the laws get fixed to give them a seat for life.

    August 16, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  5. Tony

    Donna, Democrats don't need anti-women tricks. Democrats can just show the Republican platform on women's issues. It works every time. When Republicans send out a Palin or O'Donnell, it is even easier. Showing a videotape of them talking will be enough.

    August 16, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  6. yerkiddinright

    So is she the gun toting hog castrater or the harassment victim? You can't lie out of both sides of your mouth for very long Joni.

    August 16, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  7. aaron

    I can see it happening, she's a nice looking girl. Some of them claiming to have been harassed look they took a leisurely stroll through the ugly forest. Not sure how she's going to fit in with the Repub vision though. They are totally against taking measures to prevent sexual harassment or anything else that give women some peace of mind.

    August 16, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  8. vikingwoman

    Good election strategy, Joni! Win T-Party w/pro gun speech, Military creds, pig castration anecdote! Check! Vye for women's vote, prove you're the wrench in Dem's 'war on women' platform! Check! Except 2 things: 1)Passes & comments don't equal the systematic rape, intimidation, drugging, kidnapping that has gone on, un/under punished until recently! This is a serious problem that requires serious solutions! 2) The war on women's platform belongs to Women, not any party! In fact both parties should be on board for women's equality, but only 1 is & Dem's are only motivated because women push them! We challenge the party's progressiveness every day! So in that aspect this 'strategy' is coming up short & short sighted!!

    August 16, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  9. Mark H

    Whining unbecoming an officer.

    August 16, 2014 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  10. hussein ovomit

    The brilliant rand weirdo paul and looser eric holder and keyan trevon obama tell police to stand down in st louis. Just let thug african loosers steal and now thug africans throw rocks at black troopee and shoot and loot store owner. Hows that working holder obozo and paul. You idiot clowns. Imagie all the people lennon sings. Should be imagine how great america would be with no africans.

    August 16, 2014 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  11. don in albuquerque

    Is this not the same Joni who called the Santa Barbara murders and shootings an accident? The same Joni who now appears not to understand that harassment just does not exist in the GOTP state? "Highly intelligent"?

    August 16, 2014 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  12. George

    You have to report stuff like that. The offender will only become more brazen if not stopped.

    August 17, 2014 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  13. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    hussein ovomit says:
    August 16, 2014 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm
    The brilliant rand weirdo paul and looser eric holder and keyan trevon obama tell police to stand down in st louis. Just let thug african loosers steal and now thug africans throw rocks at black troopee and shoot and loot store owner. Hows that working holder obozo and paul. You idiot clowns. Imagie all the people lennon sings. Should be imagine how great america would be with no africans.

    You really should have stated in school. You poor envious piece of PWT.

    FIFY

    August 17, 2014 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  14. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Stayed. Damn Auto-correct.

    August 17, 2014 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  15. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid the repub/tea bag majority.

    Joni Ernst – she's the one who claims "Agenda 21" could force farmers from their land and exert vast control over Iowans.

    The woman's a loon. I believe her that she was probably harassed in the military – but she's a loon, nonetheless.

    August 17, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  16. Tom l

    Real TP,

    August 16, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm
    What has Ernst actually done in political life to warrant being nominated to the Senate? Aside from her military career, what has she done that makes anyone think she is ready? Is it that the GOP is simply looking for Sarah Palin-type clones, who really have nothing to contribute? Aside from castrating hogs and serving in the National Guard, what would she bring to make our lives better? All I’ve heard from her are a bunch of catch phrases and promises to do whatever her donors/backers tell her to do, and the issue of sexual assault in the military is the ONLY place I’ve seen her deviate from the fanatical, cult-like views of the whack-job chorus. I guess the GOP wants their candidates to serve for a short a period of time as possible, because very few of them are smart or have the experience to understand the ramifications of what they are proposing, and they know they will get bounced out at the first available opportunity unless the laws get fixed to give them a seat for life.
    --

    She has been member of the Iowa senate and she holds several positions that a conservative would agree with from healthcare to gun rights to federal regulations to many issues. She would be the first female senator from Iowa – something I would think you would support.

    What is the fascination with her commercial that was obviously a metaphor? I don't get t. You have been quite reasonable lately so this comment perplexes me. Obama, like Ernst, was a state senator before running for US Senate. Obama was a community organizer which some might see as valuable experience and Ernst was in the Army for 21 years and fought for our country which some also might find to be valuable experience. Why must you compare her to Palin? Is it because of their plumbing? Seems kinda sexist to me.....

    August 17, 2014 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  17. Marie MD

    @donna, I don't know how old you are but you sound like a woman who has been kept in a basement by her man for decades.
    The teaklans are the ones who want to keep the little woman down, barefoot and pregnant cooking their meals and being available whenever they want some action.
    Never mind that your party is still, in the 14th year of the 21st century, trying to tell women what to do with their bodies, not allow them to use contraception, not being able to have a choice (which they wouldn't have to go through if contraception was available to all just like that little blue pill is available to all men).

    August 18, 2014 06:34 am at 6:34 am |
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