- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An effort to better help victims of sex assault and other crimes involving state military personnel, and to hold the Iowa National Guard accountable for such abuses, won unanimous approval Tuesday in the Iowa House.

The proposal, which corresponds with efforts at the national level, would require state military forces to file an annual report with the governor and the Legislature detailing sexual abuse allegations within the forces. It would also make it illegal for a commander to interfere in the reporting process.

“The commanders of our military have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all our service members, male and female,” said Rep. Stan Gustafson, R-Cumming. “As it relates to sexual abuse in the military, we must protect the victims, and we also must catch the perpetrator so that we can limit the number of victims.”

Victims would have the choice to file restricted reports, in which the cases would be handled exclusively within the forces, or unrestricted reports, in which the commander would be obligated to notify local law enforcement. Victims would also maintain the right to report to local law enforcement independently.

The number of both restricted and unrestricted filings would have to be reported to the Legislature. The bill now returns to the Senate for final consideration.

“We all worked very hard to make sure that a victim … could be protected,” said Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines.

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation earlier this month to better protect alleged victims within the ranks and to make sure a defendant’s fate were determined solely by evidence. The U.S. House could take up the bill in the coming weeks.

The issue has also drawn widespread attention because of a high-profile trial at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where an Army general accused of sexual assault agreed to a deal with no jail time and a fine of $20,000.

“I’m very proud that Iowa is looking at this bill,” said Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines.

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