President Joe Biden signed an order Friday transforming the way the US military investigates sexual assault cases by shifting power away from unit commanders to independent prosecutors.
The executive order, published by the White House, put a cap on years of pressure from victims’ advocates to ensure better accountability within the ranks, despite resistance to change from the military top brass.
Congress passed a law requiring the shift in 2021, but it only became implemented with Biden’s order Friday.
With his signature, Biden transferred key decision-making powers from military commanders to independent military prosecutors in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and murder.
Among the powers now falling exclusively to prosecutors, rather than commanders, will be deciding whether or not to lodge charges of serious crimes.
The White House called it the “most significant transformation of the military justice system” since it was established in 1950, ensuring that cases will be “fully independent” from the chain of command.
“These reforms are a turning point for survivors of gender-based violence in the military. They fulfill President Biden’s promise to fundamentally shift how the military justice system responds to sexual assault and related crimes,” the White House said.
According to latest Pentagon data, there were 8,942 reports of sexual assault involving military personnel in 2022, slightly up on the previous year. Of the total reported number, commanders had sufficient authority to consider legal action in only 3,188 cases, the official figures showed.