Recommended Changes to Sexual Assault Prosecutions for 2023

The military justice system isn’t set up to effectively handle sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and other sensitive cases. That’s why an Independent Review Commission (IRC) out of the Pentagon has recommended 28 main changes and 54 sub-recommendations to fix the way sexual assault and related crimes are prosecuted in the military.

While the IRC has recommended fast movement on passing these changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), senior administration officials say it will likely take until 2023 to implement the reform. The goal is to set up the new system properly and prevent it from becoming a “quick fix” that won’t last.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has endorsed all of the commission’s recommendations, and President Joe Biden has also offered his support. In the coming months, the White House, Pentagon, and Congress will work together to write the changes into law, update the UCMJ as needed, and put the recommendations into practice.

In the meantime, victims of sexual assault and harassment have to file reports under the current ineffective system. Many victims choose not to report at all because they fear retaliation or believe the crimes against them won’t be investigated properly. With new rules on the horizon, some victims may simply choose to wait in hopes that their cases will be treated more seriously once the IRC’s recommended changes take effect.

Here’s a look at some of the commission’s primary recommended changes to sexual assault prosecutions in the military.

Remove the Right to Prosecute Sexual Assault from Military Commanders

The existing rule is problematic because military commanders often lack legal training and may be colleagues or friends of the alleged perpetrator. That’s why the IRC recommended putting independent, trained, and professional military prosecutors (also known as judge advocates) in charge of prosecuting sexual assault cases.

Despite military service chiefs’ reluctance to take sexual abuse cases out of the chain of command, officials argue that this in no way diminishes a commander’s role. On the contrary, it enhances their role by allowing them to focus on mission-critical activities and ensuring victims are protected from retaliation and bullying that can occur after reporting sexual assault.

Optimize the Victim Care and Support Workforce

The current Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Victim Advocate (VA) workforce structure is fractured, inefficient, and under-resourced. That’s why the IRC suggested implementing these changes:

  • Shift SARCs and SAPR VAs out of the command reporting structure.
  • Largely eliminate the practice of staffing part-time, collateral-duty SARCs and SAPR VAs.
  • Improve coordination, collaboration, and consistency between victim support services, including Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) and the Family Advocacy Program (FAP).
  • Train more personnel to provide sexual assault medical forensic examinations so patient care and evidence collection can occur during deployment or in isolated environments.

Conduct a Manpower Study for Victim Services Personnel

The IRC recommended having the Department of Defense (DOD) conduct a manpower study to examine all military, civilian, full-time, and collateral-duty personnel that comprise a unit’s sexual assault response team. The commission suggested that comprehensive assessments include the following:

  • How many sexual assault cases are handled annually by every collateral-duty SAPR VA across all services, and how much time they spend working on cases from start to finish
  • The current caseloads of full-time SARCs and SAPR VAs
  • The redundancy of duties assigned to victim services personnel and the continued relevance of the Victim-Witness Liaison for sexual assault cases
  • The ideal number of personnel needed to provide sexual assault medical forensic examinations in isolated areas

Make it Easier for Sexual Assault Victims to Get Help

The IRC advised that every branch of the military implement a solution similar to the Army SHARP program, which allows victims to report sexual harassment to a trained, accessible, approachable, and knowledgeable victim advocate. After victims make their initial report, victim advocates openly discuss reporting and investigation options. The victim can then either seek the assistance of the commander or file a formal report that will lead to a full investigation.

The IRC recommended that the DOD form a body of independent, well-trained investigators to address formal sexual assault complaints, which should be logged, investigated, and legally reviewed. This is just one structural improvement the commission suggested to help the military address sexual harassment more effectively.

Establish a Dedicated Primary Prevention Workforce

The IRC found critical deficiencies in the military workforce that can prosecute sexual assault cases. In fact, there is an almost complete lack of a prevention workforce. That’s why the commission recommended creating a full-time body of public health and behavioral social science experienceds dedicated solely to preventing sexual assault in the military.

Build a Climate That Reduces Sexual Assault and Harassment

The commission made several suggestions for improving unit culture, including:

  • Addressing cultural norms that allows sexual harassment to be tolerated
  • Selecting, developing, and evaluating leaders based on “narrative and qualitative data”
  • Devising better climate survey processes with more “on-the-ground” information about sexual harassment
  • Increasing transparency about disciplinary actions

Defend Yourself Against Sexual Assault Allegations

These are just a handful of the 28 primary changes and 54 subcategories the IRC addressed in its report. If you have been accused of sexual assault, you need professional legal counsel to defend yourself against these claims, whether or not the reform has taken effect yet. After all, while victim advocacy and sexual assault prevention are commendable efforts, people who have experienced sexual assault aren’t the only victims here. False accusations and exaggerations also abound in the military, which can destroy an innocent person’s career and reputation forever.

Turn to Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law for help defending yourself against sexual assault allegations. With the unwavering support of our experienced military lawyer, you’ll receive the counsel you need to formulate a credible defense. Call us toll free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 to speak directly with Mr. Jordan about your case today.