President Biden has signed an executive order to make sexual harassment an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and to improve the military’s response to domestic violence and the unlawful distribution of intimate images.
Establishing sexual harassment as an offense under the code was called for by the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. Guillén was only 20 when she was murdered in April 2020, allegedly by a fellow soldier. A U.S. Army report said officers at Fort Hood ignored her complaints of sexual harassment in the time leading up to her death.
Mr. Biden has said he supports the military removing the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases from commanders’ control, which would be a big change for the military criminal justice system.
In a statement, the White House said the executive order “strengthens the military justice system’s response to gender-based violence, and delivers on key recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military (IRC) that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin launched in March 2021.”
Last summer, General Mark Milley, the Defense Department’s top officer, signaled he is open to “significant and fundamental change” in how the military handles sexual assault and harassment, but he would want to see “detailed study” before the military justice system changes how it handles serious crimes. Austin has also expressed an openness to make changes to the military justice system.
CBS News has done extensive reporting on domestic violence and sexual assault in the military. Last year, CBS News found roughly 100,000 incidents of domestic abuse have reported to the military since 2015. But the military has not kept comprehensive data on the problem.
And nearly a decade after Congress mandated the use of investigators and prosecutors specifically trained to handle sexual assault and domestic violence cases, a draft Pentagon report showed the military is failing to comply with federal law that requires it to give survivors of such abuse support. In an analysis of almost 450 military special victims cases filed between 2018 to 2020, the Department of Defense’s inspector general found that 64% did not have properly trained prosecutors assigned to them.