President Joe Biden
has endorsed an independent commission
's recommendation that sexual assault
cases in the military
be prosecuted outside of the chain of command.
Biden asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
earlier this year to create a review of sexual assault and harassment in the military, and the independent commission's findings, including recommendations for changes, are set to be released
According to senior administration officials during a press call Thursday, the president endorsed the report's recommendations, which included shifting prosecution of sexual assault cases to special victims prosecutors and having sexual assault response coordinators and victims' advocates outside of the command structure.
After interviewing hundreds of survivors, former service members, advocates, and others, the commission discovered that, while senior leaders claim there is no tolerance for harassment in the military, junior women
were subjected to demeaning language and sexual harassment
on a daily basis and were told it was normal.
The commission recommended that commanders set the standard for demonstrating zero tolerance in practice by interrupting and speaking out against such behavior.
According to a 2019 Pentagon
report, sexual assault rates among service members have increased in recent years, with a 38% increase in reported military sexual assaults between 2016 and 2018.
Vanessa Guillen, a soldier from Texas
, was bludgeoned to death
at Fort Hood in 2020 by a fellow soldier, who had previously reported sexual harassment.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has introduced legislation that would move the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases in the military outside of the chain of command.
The independent commission also discovered that victims of sexual assault and harassment bore a heavy burden, with many who reported incidents later regretting it because they were ostracized or bullied and had difficulty accessing quality services.
The report advocated for the hiring of individuals who would specifically work
on sexual harassment prevention in the military, with an emphasis on online harassment, as well as for greater transparency in disciplinary actions taken against perpetrators.
The White House
and Pentagon are expected to consult over the next few months on how the Department of Defense will implement these recommendations, and Biden intends to work with Congress
to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
According to senior officials, Biden thanked the survivors who shared their stories and made recommendations to the commission, as well as Gillibrand for her years of advocacy on the issue of sexual assault in the military.