July 3 (UPI) — President Joe Biden said Friday he supported a recommendation that independent prosecutors take over sexual assault cases in the U.S. military rather than the current chain of command.
Biden said he thought the change, suggested by the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assaults in the Military and supported by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, would better serve assault victims.
“Ending violence against women and eliminating sexual assault against any person in our country has been a priority for me throughout my career in public service,” Biden said in a statement. “Sexual assault in the military is doubly damaging because it also shreds the unity and cohesion that is essential to the functioning of the U.S. military and to our national defense.”
Biden said that while there has been more attention on ending sexual assault in the military, he believes “the stories have grown worse.”
“We need concrete actions that fundamentally change the way we handle military sexual assault and that make it clear that these crimes will not be minimized or dismissed,” Biden said. “They will be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to their fullest extent.”
The president said the military will prioritize effective prevention strategies; promote safe, healthy, and respectful climates; and improve services to address the trauma that sexual assault victims experience to facilitate healing and recovery.
The commission made more than 80 recommendations in their report, saying there is “a wide chasm between what senior leaders believe is happening under their commands, and what junior enlisted service members actually experience.”
“This is true across the enterprise. As a result, trust has been broken between commanders and the service members under their charge and care,” the commission’s report said.
In a memorandum to senior leadership, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the changes will take a “comprehensive approach that integrates action across each line of effort.”
He said the department can start moving on having independent prosecutors handle sexual assault allegations, adding sexual harassment as an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and creating a Secretariat in each military branch to provide oversight and guidance on such crimes.