Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, to announce that the Pentagon will act upon the 90-day commission recommendations on sexual assault and harassment in the military. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
UPDATED 12:53 PM PT – Thursday, September 23, 2021
The Pentagon announced the implementation of a new sexual assault and domestic violence response plan in the military. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced the plan on Wednesday, which includes proposing changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and will remove the investigation of sexual assault and domestic violence from the chain of command.
Instead, the new Office of the Special Victim Prosecutor will handle those investigations, marking the first step in the four-tier plan, which is already underway. After an Independent Review Commission, established by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in February, studied sexual assault and harassment in the military for 90 days, more than 80 recommended changes were reported causing Austin to order the development of a plan in July.
“The preponderance of initiatives and resources are focused in our first tier. For instance, it contains three of our highest priority recommendations, including the establishment of the offices of special victim prosecutors, the creation of a full-time and specialized prevention workforce, and the implementation of full-time sexual assault response coordinator and sexual assault prevention and response victim advocate positions,” said Hicks.
During the briefing, Hicks explained in order to implement these recommendations the Department of Defense will need to establish an entirely new workforce, adding the completion of the first tier will most likely be implemented at the end of 2027.
“The military services are eager to move as fast as possible,” she said. “They would like to make sure that as much as we can is in this first wave, this first tier of activity. And I think what we’re trying to balance is the expert advice we’ve been given to make sure we do this well.”
The Independent Review Commission, led by former White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, Lynn Rosenthal, promised to seek major changes that could improve care for victims and hold abusers accountable. The efforts in this space will be the biggest ever attempted and the first of its kind.
“So building a prevention workforce, building the accountability approach very specifically around sexual assault, sexual harassment and related crimes, this will be a first of its kind endeavor,” stated Hicks. “We want to move fast, but we want to make sure that these changes last and we build back that trust in the force.”
Joe Biden offered support for this plan, calling it “among the most significant reforms” to the U.S. military in recent years. In the meantime, the Department of Defense has not yet specified how it will deal with sexual assault and harassment claims while the plan is being implemented and officials say the first tier is estimated to cost around $4.6 billion between 2022 and 2027.