A Pentagon panel recommended that commanders no longer be involved in prosecuting cases involving sexual assault in the military.
The suggestion by an Independent Review Commission led by Lynn Rosenthal, a former White House advisor on violence against women and established by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, signifies a major change in military protocol and a new phase in the administration’s push to get on top of sexual assault in the military.
Thursday’s recommendation was reportedly just one of many the panel submitted to Austin.
“The Secretary will now review the recommendations and consult with service leaders,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told Fox News. “The Secretary has asked the services to provide their candid assessment and feedback of these initial recommendations by the end of May.”
The secretary of defense has vowed to make lasting social changes to the military by reducing the number of sexual assault cases, advancing the number of minorities in the service and expelling radical extremism.
Cases of sexual assault have been on the rise since 2006, spiking in 2018 with a 13 percent increase, followed by a three percent increase in 2019. Data for 2020 have not yet been released.
The panel suggested that crimes involving sexual assault should instead be viewed by designated independent judge advocates, who would then report the incidents to a civilian-led office of the Chief Special Victim Prosecutor, reported The Associated Press.
That independent judge would then decide if the incident should be prosecuted and if the charge should be taken to martial court, officials told the publication.
It also recommended that sexual harassment cases be dealt with outside the regular chain of command. If a charge is then substantiated, the panel suggests that the individual be discharged while legal proceedings continue.
Commanders will still be expected to lead by example and set the tone for what is not acceptable within their military unit.