President Joe Biden’s administration will request that the U.S. Military begin removing sexual assault and harassment cases from the chain of command, the administration announced Friday.
Biden ordered a 90-day review of the military’s handling of sexual misconduct cases in March, with the Independent Review Commission (IRC) taking the helm. Now finished, the White House will seek legislation from Congress that formally moves such cases outside the military chain of command, but the administration is seeking for the Pentagon to make the change of its own accord in the meantime.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has endorsed the review’s findings in meetings with White House officials, senior administration officials told reporters in a Thursday press call. Austin is expected to announce specific changes to the policy later Friday, according to The Wall Street Journal. The most substantial change, however, will be transferring the authority of choosing when to prosecute such cases from commanders to prosecutors themselves.
While Pentagon officials have long said the prosecution of sexual misconduct is a top priority, data shows reported incidents of misconduct have surged in recent years. (RELATED: Schools On Military Bases Failed To Report 88% Of Juvenile Sexual Assault And Misconduct Complaints To Police)
Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined to introduce legislation to reform the military’s sexual assault response in May.
“America’s service members make untold sacrifices on our nation’s behalf, and it is our responsibility to ensure those who need support can get it,” Hawley said in the press release at the time. “This legislation would aid the Department of Defense in identifying next steps to professionalize the role of Sexual Assault Response Coordinator throughout all branches of the military.”
The killing of a female soldier at Fort Hood, whose body was discovered June 6, 2020, has galvanized efforts to reform the Pentagon’s handling of sexual misconduct cases. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén was murdered and dismembered after repeatedly reporting sexual harassment incidents.