Army Secretary Christine Wormuth announced the service’s plan to establish an independent office for handling sex crimes in public comments last week.
Wormuth’s remarks were part of a Sept. 7 discussion hosted at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
It’s not clear from Wormuth’s comments when the office will stand up, or how exactly it will be structured. But one thing is clear from an Army release: the new organization will take sexual assault and harassment prosecutions from commanders.
Wormuth committed to setting up the office and other initiatives “swiftly and fully,” according to prepared remarks shared by her office.
“It’s critical that we respond effectively and sensitively when sexual harassment or assault does happen,” Wormuth said, according to the release. “It’s our responsibility to make sure our leaders have the resources they need to take care of our Soldiers and their families when something happens.”
The move comes after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the armed services to remove sexual assault charging decisions from the chain of command. Austin directed the change in July after accepting the recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military.
In comments made to CBS News last week, Austin reiterated his support for ongoing Congressional efforts to codify the removal, such as the effort of Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has been working to reform the military justice system for years.
“We are working closely with Congress on legislative proposals to remove decisions about whether to prosecute sexual assaults and related crimes-including domestic violence-from the military chain of command,” Austin said.
Army Times has previously reported cases where commanders failed to prosecute sexual assault cases where the perpetrator went on to commit multiple additional assaults. Taking charging decisions out of the chain of command would reduce such incidents, reform advocates have argued.
The Army’s handling of such cases also came under scrutiny after the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee found that the service’s existing program for preventing and combating sexual harassment and assault — SHARP — is “structurally flawed.”
The committee also found defects in the structure and practices of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, which has led the service to implement sweeping CID reforms.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.