Biden signs order making sexual harassment a punishable offense in military

The executive order works in tandem with provisions of the 2022 defense authorization act.

The White House is officially making sexual harassment a crime in the military, strengthening the power of prosecutors to go after service members who use words and non-violent actions to make other troops feel unsafe.

“This afternoon, I’m signing an Executive Order to make sexual harassment an offense in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and to strengthen the military’s response to domestic violence and the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images,” President Joe Biden said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Biden’s order is related to provisions in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. That law carries monumental changes to the way the military prosecutes sexual harassment and assault, including taking it outside of the command structure.

“This executive order is key to advancing the historic, bipartisan military justice reform he signed into law last month through the NDAA,” a statement from the White House said. “The executive order that the President signed today establishes sexual harassment as a specific offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It also strengthens the military justice response in prosecuting cases of domestic violence, and fully implements changes to the military justice code to criminalize the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images.”

The law criminalizes sexual harassment under the UCMJ and ensures that an independent investigator outside of the chain of command looks into all claims of sexual harassment.

According to the RAND Corporation, the military service and National Guard processed and investigated more than 1,600 formal and informal complaints of sexual harassment in 2018. The grossly underestimates the actual number. A survey of active duty service members conducted by the Defense Department in 2018 found that about 119,000 individuals experienced sexual harassment in the last year.

Sexual harassment is rampant within the active force with 25% of active duty women experiencing it each year. Multiple studies have shown that sexual harassment is often a precursor to sexual assault, and units with high rates also have high rates of sexual assault. The new legislation makes sexual harassment a specific criminal offense under the UCMJ.

Sexual assault has been a top issue for DoD and Congress as cases have continued to rise over the years.

Last year, the Pentagon commissioned an independent review on sexual assault and harassment in the military. The commission returned with more than 80 recommendations, making harassment a crime under the UCMJ is one of them.

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