US President Joe Biden signed a decree on Wednesday January 26 reforming military justice to make sexual violence in the army a crime and no longer just an offense, after years of unsuccessful attempts by the Pentagon to fight against this scourge.
The purpose of this decree is to “Making sexual harassment a crime under the Code of Military Justice and strengthening the military’s response to domestic violence and the unjustifiable broadcast or distribution of intimate images”, tweeted the US president.
Planned in the 2022 budget of the Pentagon, it makes effective the law “I am Vanessa Guillen” named after a 20-year-old soldier murdered in 2020 on a large American military base after being the victim of sexual harassment.
The young soldier had told her family that she did not trust her superiors to follow up on a complaint of sexual harassment, and her relatives had publicly doubted the army’s determination to investigate her disappearance, until until his dismembered body was finally discovered. Officers – about ten – were dismissed a few months later.
The law provides that sexual assaults, domestic violence and assaults on minors will be tried before a court martial and the decision to prosecute the perpetrators will be entrusted to specialized prosecutors – who have yet to be named – and no longer to the chain of command.
The US military had so far resisted, citing the need to maintain disciplined control within the ranks. But the number of sexual assaults not weakening, the American Minister of Defense, Lloyd Austin, had appointed an independent commission to submit suggestions to him so that the perpetrators of sexual violence in the army are prosecuted more effectively.
The commission had concluded that taking away from the military hierarchy the decision whether or not to prosecute the perpetrators of sexual violence was the only solution. Moreover, instead of incurring simple administrative sanctions as was the case so far, the perpetrators will be liable to prison terms.
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