President Joe Biden on Wednesday will sign an executive order to make sexual harassment an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
According to White House officials, the executive order will also strengthen the military’s response to domestic violence incidents and increase penalties for service members who share “intimate visual images” without permission.
The move comes just a few weeks after lawmakers approved sweeping changes to how military sexual misconduct crimes are prosecuted, in response to years of complaints that Pentagon leaders were properly handling those cases.
In coming months, those cases will be handled by an independent branch of military prosecutors, rather than through the typical military chain of command.
The new crimes included in the executive order could also be handled by those independent lawyers. White House officials did not provide specifics ahead of the signing on what the penalties for the new crimes will be.
Military officials in recent years have pledged to end sexual assault and harassment among troops, but their efforts thus far have met criticism from advocates and Congress.
Nearly 6,290 service members reported being sexually assaulted in fiscal 2020, up about 1 percent from the year before. Outside advocates say the actual number of crimes is likely much higher, because sexual misconduct crimes often go unreported by victims who believe their attackers will not face any serious consequences.
Last summer, Biden voiced his support for stronger sexual misconduct punishments for military members, calling the crimes “doubly damaging because it also shreds the unity and cohesion that is essential to the functioning of the U.S. military and to our national defense.”
Biden is expected to sign the executive order in the afternoon.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.