For the first time, Pentagon leadership supports a change that would remove oversight for sexual assault prosecutions from the chain of command. Such cases instead would be managed independently. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed willingness to adopt the change during a Pentagon press conference earlier this month.
Serious criminal prosecutions within the military are conducted under the direction of a convening authority – essentially, the person atop the chain of command. Critics of the system have long stated that the convening authority is not detached from some cases sufficiently enough to uphold verdicts with impartiality.
Concerns about the chain-of-command issue prompted Austin to establish a commission to review sexual assault in the armed forces. He and Milley based their decision to support change upon recommendations of the commission, which is still working on the issue.
“This is very important to me and it’s very important to the entire department,” Austin said at the May 7 press conference, adding that all options are on the table.
Milley said while he plans to wait until the commission completes its work before rendering a final judgment, he is open to reforming the system.
“We estimate based on surveys that there were probably 20,000 men and women who were sexually assaulted in the United States military last year,” Milley said. “That’s one percent of the force. If we had 20,000 killed or wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq, those are casualties. That’s huge, that’s significant. And that number hasn’t significantly been reduced over time.”
The Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military and a fact with the topline results can be found on the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office website at www.sapr.mil.