Iowa Senate nominee Joni Ernst (R), a member of the Army National Guard, says she was sexually harassed while on duty and if elected will work across the aisle to make sure others avoid the same fate.


Ernst told Time magazine she plans to work with Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandProgressives soaring after big primary night Bill from Warren, Gillibrand and Waters would make Fed fight economic racial inequalities Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman MORE (D-N.Y.) and against many in her party and the Pentagon to push for more changes to the way the military handles sexual harassment and assault cases. Gillibrand has long worked on the issue.

Ernst said her two decades in the military have given her a "unique personal perspective on the greatest challenges our military is facing, as well as the best opportunities for solutions." She called sexual assault one of the biggest problems facing the armed forces.

She also told the magazine about being harassed.

"I had comments, passes, things like that," she said. "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."

The comments give Ernst some bipartisan credibility as she looks to fend off Democratic accusations that she's a hard-line conservative unwilling to reach across the aisle, and they could potentially help her with independent female voters. They also allow her to demonstrate how her personal experiences could help her to be an effective legislator if she defeats Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell Braley2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward MORE (D-Iowa) in their tight Senate battle.

Braley has also been involved with the issue. His latest ad features the father of Holley Lynn James, a Marine killed by her husband, thanking Braley for pushing through a law aimed at helping victims of military sexual assault. The act was named for James.

"If the recent changes in law, passed last year, do not make significant progress in the next few months in addressing this pressing problem, when I am sworn into the United States Senate as its first female combat veteran, I will work with Senator Gillibrand and other Senate leaders in seeking bi-partisan support for new legislation.  This legislation must ensure that sexual crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted," Ernst said in the Time interview.

"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. However, this should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now."

Ernst plans to give a speech to a group of Iowa Republican women Friday night on the matter.