Sen. Joni Ernst fights sexual abuse

Iowa Republican wants better protection for people in federal custody

Some federal law enforcement officers have successfully avoided conviction when accused of sexual assault by individuals in their custody by claiming that the people making the allegation consented to the encounter.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst wants that defense eliminated in the future. That’s why the Iowa Republican is joining with U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., to sponsor legislation that would make it impossible for these federal officials to use that argument in court to justify their behavior. Their bill is known as the Closing the Law Enforcement Loophole Act.

“It should be considered a criminal offense for any federal law enforcement officer, agent or employee to engage in sexual misconduct while on duty,” Ernst said in a statement announcing the bill. “Current law prohibits the use of the consent defense for federal correctional employees, but does not hold accountable all persons involved in the administration of federal criminal law. That’s unacceptable. Our bipartisan bill will close this loophole and encourage states to enact similar legislation that protects those in custody.”

The three senators contend that the power relationship that exists between these officers and people in custody necessarily makes giving genuine consent impossible.

The legislation would make it illegalfor a federal law enforcement official to engage in a sexual act with anyone in his or her custody or “while exercising their authority under color of law, regardless of consent.” Officials affected include federal agents, probation officers, judges and prosecutors.

This worthy legislation has the support of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National District Attorneys Association and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

Sadly, sexual assault is a serious problem in contemporary society. That individuals hired to enforce our laws are sometimes perpetrators of assaults is unacceptable. It is even more disgusting when the victims are people with whose safety they have been entrusted.

The Messenger salutes Ernst for reaching across the party divide in Washington to co-sponsor this important bill. We agree with her that its prompt enactment is much needed. We strongly support her efforts to close a disgusting loophole that is allowing some villains to escape justice.

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