Crime & Justice

US to prosecute sexual assault complaints outside military chain of command

Washington, Dec 28 (EFE).- In a significant reform, the US military Thursday announced that major crimes, notably sexual assault, murder, and domestic violence, will now be prosecuted independently of the chain of command.

Implementing a congressionally mandated change in the US military justice system, the Department of Defense has entrusted the decision on prosecution for sexual abuse and harassment and 12 other serious offenses to specially trained and independent judge advocates, marking a pivotal shift in handling such cases.

“This landmark change…will significantly strengthen the independent prosecution of sexual assault and other serious criminal offenses in the Department of Defense,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement.

He said it was “the most important reform to our military justice system since the creation of the 1950 Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“This reform aims to help strengthen accountability and increase all of our service members’ trust in the fairness and integrity of the military justice system.”

The offenses that fall under the authority of the new Offices of Special Trial Counsels, (OSTC) include murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, domestic violence, stalking, child pornography, and sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

Until now, such crimes were prosecuted by commanders, which resulted in a lack of prosecutions and victims avoiding reporting for fear of reprisals.

From now on, the crimes will be tried by the OSTCs, headed by independent judges who report directly to the secretaries of the military departments.

A Pentagon statement said these offices began operating on Thursday.

According to official data from September 2022, 8.4 percent of women in the US Armed Forces suffered sexual harassment or abuse in 2021, the highest number of complaints since the Pentagon began keeping records in 2006.

Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress had been pressuring the Pentagon for years to pay greater attention to complaints of sexual harassment and abuse.

The matter gained greater attention due to the disappearance and murder in 2020 of 20-year-old Hispanic soldier Vanessa Guillén, who had suffered sexual abuse at the Fort Hood base (Texas).

Guillén was murdered by one of her colleagues, Aaron David Robinson, who committed suicide when the police came to question him. EFE


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