US President Joe Biden issued a Friday statement expressing support for the Pentagon chief's same-day announcement on implementing recommendations set forth by the Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault (IRC).
Biden noted that his backing includes Austin's call for "removing the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command and creating highly specialized units to handle these cases and related crimes."
"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. Sexual assault is an abuse of power and an affront to our shared humanity," said the US president, who has also had allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against him.
Biden asserted that sexual assault in the US military presents a compounded issue, as it "shreds the unity and cohesion that is essential to the functioning of the US military and to our national defense."
Per the memorandum in question, Austin issued reforms based on his consultations with military and civilian leadership, as well as the IRC's recommendations, which were based on four criteria: accountability, prevention, climate and culture and victim care and support.
And across all four lines of our Independent Review Commission's effort, I have directed @DepSecDef to develop an implementation roadmap for my review within 60 days.— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) July 2, 2021
Now is the time to lead. And we will lead. (5/5) pic.twitter.com/YBZqmislhD
Overall, the IRC published 28 recommendations and 54 sub-recommendations.
In addition to separating the military chain of command from cases involving sexual misconduct and child abuse, the Pentagon chief also intends to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to create dedicated offices - with oversight - to handle the prosecution of such matters.
Furthermore, the memorandum orders the UCMJ be amended to include sexual harassment as an offense.
Austin's call for UCMJ reforms comes just a few weeks after the Pentagon released an annual report detailing that 7,816 reports of sexual assault were filed among service members for 2020.
At least 6,290 of the reports filed in 2020 involved active US service members, compared to 6,236 recorded in 2019.