Jun 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Defense secretary backs overhaul to military sexual assault prosecutions

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin listens during a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill on June 10

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this month. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Tuesday that he supports changes to the military justice system in cases of sexual assault.

Why it matters: This is the first time Austin has publicly commented on a proposed overhaul of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which would see independent military prosecutors replace commanders in deciding whether to try serious criminal cases in court.

  • Failure to address sexual assault has plagued the military for years, and it became a national issue after Vanessa Guillén's death in 2020.
  • An investigation found the chain of command had failed to address the sexual harassment she faced before she was killed.

What he's saying: Austin said in a statement that he will present President Biden with recommendations he said provide "us real opportunities to finally end the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military. "

  • The defense secretary noted that the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military recommended changes to "other special victims' crimes inside this independent prosecution system, to include domestic violence."
  • Austin said he also supported these changes, "given the strong correlation between these sorts of crimes and the prevalence of sexual assault."

Driving the news: Austin's announcement came hours after it emerged that the top U.S. military officers opposed a Senate bill on the matter because they said it would "undermine military leadership," per the Wall Street Journal.

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