President Joe Biden has signed a "historic" executive order that will pose a significant change in the handling of serious military crimes, particularly sexual assault cases.
The order, which was signed Friday, amends the Uniform Code of Military Justice by transferring the authority for prosecuting serious offenses such as sexual assault, domestic violence, murder, child abuse and other offenses from victims' commanders to specialized, independent military attorneys to create a more just and accountable system within the military's ranks.
This is an implementation of legislation passed by Congress last year, the National Defense Authorization Act, with the primary goal of bolstering protections for service members. Historically, these service members often found themselves at the mercy of their commanders, who decided whether to take their assault claims seriously.
The changes mark the most substantial overhaul of the military justice system since the code was first implemented in 1950, according to the White House.
"The historic reforms announced today will better protect victims and ensure prosecutorial decisions are fully independent from the chain of the command," the White House said in a statement, adding that this decision comes in response to the troubling increase in reported sexual assaults within the military's ranks and it follows "decades of tireless efforts by survivors, advocates, and Members of Congress, to strengthen the military justice system’s response to gender-based violence and build on recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military (IRC), which Secretary Austin established at President Biden’s direction as one of his earliest acts in office."
In April, the Pentagon said that reports of sexual assault from members of the armed services had increased since last year. Over the period from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022, a total of 8,942 sexual assault reports were filed in the military. In the previous year, the military saw 8,866 reports filed.
Furthermore, the Department of Defense says it is gradually hiring 2,000 skilled professionals to be dedicated to fostering the well-being of the military community and collaborating with leaders to bring about policy changes and execute prevention initiatives.
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