Biden Enacts Order to Bolster Safeguards for Military Sexual Assault Victims

by Ethan Kim
military sexual assault

President Joe Biden ratified an executive order on the previous Friday, entrusting the decision-making authority related to the prosecution of grave military offenses, encompassing sexual assault, to impartial military lawyers. This act transfers the said authority from the victims’ commanding officers.

This presidential order serves to enact legislation that was sanctioned by Congress in 2022, with the explicit purpose of fortifying protections for military personnel. Previously, such service members frequently found themselves dependent on their commanders’ discretion regarding the seriousness of their assault allegations.

The legislative body of the United States, discontented with the ascending prevalence of sexual assaults within the military, engaged in years of heated debates with defense chiefs over this matter. Congressional members contended that commanders occasionally chose to overlook accusations or incidents within their respective units to shield the alleged offenders, and asserted that the involvement of autonomous legal professionals would enhance the prosecution rates. Conversely, military superiors resisted, voicing concerns that this move might undermine commanders’ jurisdiction.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York State expended nearly ten years in an arduous endeavor to amend the military’s approach to handling sexual assaults and to facilitate the legislative modifications, which were eventually enshrined through President Biden’s order.

“Although the outcomes of these transformations will require time to materialize, they will infuse the system with enhanced trust, professionalism, and confidence,” Gillibrand articulated.

Amongst over twenty distinct recommendations tendered in 2021 by a self-governing review commission regarding military sexual assault, constituted by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, was this change. The alteration was incorporated into the preceding year’s annual defense legislation. As it necessitates an amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, presidential intervention was obligatory.

Senior officials from the Biden administration, in a briefing with journalists, characterized this alteration as the most radical overhaul to the military legal structure since its inauguration in 1950.

A year prior, the Pentagon commenced the implementation of this transformation. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force inaugurated new special trial counsel offices that will assume control over prosecution resolutions by year-end. Starting January 1, 2025, this prosecutorial authority will be broadened to encompass sexual harassment instances.

This overhaul is concurrent with the military’s struggle to manage escalating numbers of reported sexual assaults within its personnel.

Though significant strides have been made to simplify and secure the process for troops to report these crimes, there has been minimal success in diminishing the incidents of assault, exhibiting an increase nearly every annum since 2006. In total, during the fiscal year 2022, there were 8,942 reported sexual assaults involving service members, a minor elevation from 8,866 in the preceding year.

Defense authorities have consistently posited that a rise in reported assaults could be interpreted as a favorable development since numerous individuals are hesitant to report them, both within the military and the broader society. Increased reporting, they argue, signifies an amplified confidence in the reporting mechanism, improved comfort with victim support, and a burgeoning count of culprits who are being brought to justice.

Contributions to this report were made by Big Big News writer Lolita Baldor.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about military sexual assault

What did President Biden’s executive order regarding military sexual assault entail?

The executive order signed by President Biden delegates the decision-making authority related to the prosecution of grave military offenses, including sexual assault, to impartial military lawyers instead of the victims’ commanding officers. It enacts legislation sanctioned by Congress in 2022 to fortify protections for military personnel who were previously reliant on commanders to decide whether to take their assault claims seriously.

Who were the key proponents of this change?

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York was a key proponent who spent nearly a decade working to amend how the military handles sexual assaults. Members of Congress and an independent review commission set up by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also contributed to the change.

When will the new special trial counsel offices assume authority over prosecution decisions?

The new special trial counsel offices, set up by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, will assume control over prosecution decisions by the end of this year. The authority will expand to include sexual harassment cases starting January 1, 2025.

How has the trend of reported sexual assaults in the military changed over the years?

The number of reported sexual assaults within the military has been on an upward trend nearly every year since 2006. In the fiscal year 2022, there were 8,942 reported sexual assaults involving service members, a slight increase from 8,866 the preceding year.

What does the military’s leadership think about this change?

Military leaders initially balked at the change, expressing concerns that it might undermine commanders’ jurisdiction. However, defense officials argue that an increase in reported assaults could be seen as a positive trend, indicating more confidence in the reporting system and support for victims.

More about military sexual assault

  • Executive Order on Military Justice Reform
  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Official Website
  • Department of Defense Report on Sexual Assault in the Military
  • Annual Defense Bill Including the Changes
  • Uniform Code of Military Justice Overview

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James Thompson August 21, 2023 - 10:51 pm

I cant believe it took this long for something like this to happen. Military justice should’ve been independent ages ago. Its about time!

Robert K. August 22, 2023 - 4:41 am

this is a complex issue but seems like a step in the right direction, hope the execution of the law lives up to the intention…

Samantha Lewis August 22, 2023 - 7:54 am

I served in the military and this is a welcome change. the old system was too biased, glad to see steps being taken for fairness and justice.

Maria W. August 22, 2023 - 4:01 pm

Finally, some justice for the victims. Senator Gillibrand’s efforts have really paid off. Great news, but still much more needs to be done.

KevinT91 August 22, 2023 - 5:21 pm

What’s next? how will this affect the commanders authority? Will it make a real difference? lots of questions still


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