Biden to Sign Executive Order on Handling Sexual Assault in the Military

July 28, 2023

President Biden on Friday was set to sign a “historic” executive order changing how the military handles sexual assault investigations. 

The executive order will amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) by transferring “key decision-making authorities from commanders to specialized, independent military prosecutors in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, murder, and other serious offenses,” the White House said in a statement.

The executive order will establish rules governing the new Offices of Special Trial Counsel comprised of the independent military prosecutors who will now decide  whether to prosecute such offenses. The order will make clear that prosecutorial decisions made by the special trial counsel are binding and fully independent from the military’s chain of command. The new rules also included provisions to protect the independent prosecutors.

The changes are the implementation of reforms passed by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (FY22 NDAA).

According to the White House, the “historic reforms” to the military code “represent the most significant transformation of the military justice system since the UCMJ was established in 1950.”

Further, they build on recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military (IRC), which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin established at the direction of President Biden.

“These reforms are a turning point for survivors of gender-based violence in the military,” the White House said. 

Last year, the Department of Defense’s annual Sexual Assault and Prevention Report found that, from October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022, Military Services received 8,942 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or subjects, a 1% increase from the previous fiscal year.

However, that follows fiscal year 2021’s total number of reports of sexual assault in the military—7,249—increasing by 13% over fiscal year 2020. 

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