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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Biden Signs Order Criminalizing Sexual Harassment, Revenge Porn in the Military

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order making sexual harassment a crime for members of the military.

Under the order, the president made sexual harassment an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and also strengthened the military justice system’s response to prosecuting cases of domestic violence.

The order, effective Jan. 26, also adjusts the military justice code to criminalize the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images, also known as revenge porn.

“This afternoon, I’m signing an Executive Order to make sexual harassment an offense in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and to strengthen the military’s response to domestic violence and the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images,” the president announced on Twitter.

A press release from the White House states that the changes come in response to key recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military (IRC) launched by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in March last year.

“We honor the courage and leadership of the many survivors and advocates who have long fought for these critical changes,” the White House said.

Making sexual harassment a crime in the military was a part of the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act,” which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén was brutally murdered at the age of 20 in April 2020, and her remains found in June 2020. Family members at the time had told Army leaders that Guillen said that superiors had sexually harassed her prior to her death. A report by the US Army said that her sexual harassment complaints had been ignored by Fort Hood officers.

Dawn Gomez holds her 3-year-old granddaughter who waves at Vanessa Guillen’s mural painted by Alejandro “Donkeeboy” Roman Jr. on the side of Taqueria Del Sol in Houston, Texas, on July 2, 2020. (Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP)

The order now makes it possible for defense personnel to report incidents of sexual harassment to a third part instead of up their chain of command.

“Before, when somebody like Vanessa would be sexually harassed or sexually assaulted, she would have to report it to her command,” Guillen family lawyer Natalie Khawam told NewsNation. “The problem with that is studies show that the majority of sexual harassment, sexual assault actually occur within the chain of command.”

The White House thanked the family for their efforts in reforming the military code. “The Guillén family’s leadership and determination in advocating for change underscored the need for military justice reform, including how the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) addresses sexual harassment,” it said in a statement.

Sexual assault and harassment has more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to the The Wall Street Journal. The White House also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as linked to an increase in domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States and around the world.

The changes comes more than four months after the Pentagon said it would take action on key recommendations from the IRC on countering sexual assault in the military. In July last year, the IRC made 82 recommendations after meeting with more than 600 people, including military leadership, service members, and sexual assault survivors.

In response to the commission’s recommendations, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks in September outlined a strategy to thwart sexual assault in the military.

“To date, sexual harassment and sexual assault have been serious problems in our force with lethal consequences for service members and harmful effects on our combat readiness,” Hicks said.

“Countering sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military remains a priority for Secretary Austin, for President Biden, and for me. We continue to move quickly and deliberately, and [we] are committed to the path that I have outlined,” Hicks added at the time.

Biden in July last year also emphasized the need for countering sexual harassment and assault in the military.

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.

Isabelle van Brugen

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Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.

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