DES MOINES — Iowa military officials would be required to report any sexual assault or trauma involving soldiers under their command to civilian authorities for criminal prosecution under legislation backed by a state senator and veterans’ advocates.
Bob Krause, a former state legislator and retired Army Reserve colonel, told a Statehouse news conference the bill would close a loophole by requiring that leaders of the Iowa National Guard report sexual attacks or other incidents to law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute.
“As a law enforcement officer for 24-plus years, I think this is one of the things that should have been done a long time ago,” said state Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, a deputy sheriff in Marshall County and a member of the Iowa Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “I hope we get this to the governor’s desk this year.”
Sodders is proposing to amend the Iowa Code of Military Justice to apply to military sexual trauma or other incidents when Iowa troops are under state orders. The proposed legislation would not cover Iowa troops that are mobilized under federal authorization.
“The MST amendment to the Iowa Code of Military Justice is an opportunity for our state to lead the nation’s charge against this egregious crime, to take action against perpetrators that do not stand for the values of the Iowa Guard and Reserves, and to protect the women and men that voluntarily give their best and, if necessary, their life in faithful service,” said Miyoko Hikiji, an Urbandale veteran who was a sexual trauma victim during her stint with the Iowa Army National Guard.
Hikiji said 360,000 to 500,000 servicewomen have been sexually assaulted at some point in their military careers, which is at least one in five women in the military. She added that a significant number of women cite sexual trauma when filing a claim with the Veterans Administration, but she said only about 15 percent of the incidents are reported.
Hikiji said the chain of command in her instance appeared to have a systematic method to ignore and conceal her report and to “re-victimize me” in the process.
“What is crushing is that the greatest professional army in the world and one of the most ready and well-trained guard units in the country made me one of its own — a sister among brothers, trained and battle-tested,” she said. “Proud of the uniform I wore and, from within the tightest woven threads of trust and loyalty, it unraveled everything it had taught me to believe in.”
Col. Gregory Hapgood Jr., the Iowa National Guard’s public affairs officer, said guard officials planned to review the proposed changes to “determine if they would adversely impact current Iowa National Guard and federal military policies regarding handling reports of sexual assaults.”
Hapgood said both state and federal policies are focused on providing appropriate support to the victim and honoring the victim’s wishes.
“We are extremely cautious of any changes to state military law that might compromise the integrity and effectiveness of those policies and that may also significantly diverge from the federal Uniform Code of Military Justice, upon which the Iowa Code of Military Justice is based,” he said. “With regard to state orders, we treat state duty (e.g., disaster response) and Title 32 duty (drills and annual training) the same.”