Washington: In a significant development in the attempt to relieve a long-term issue with which the Pentagon has struggled, US President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order making sexual harassment a crime under the military justice code.
Biden took the step after it was included in this year's National Defense Authorization Act.
A provision in the NDAA required that the president take this step to make sexual harassment an "offense punishable," in the Uniform Code of Military Justice within 30 days of the bill becoming law. Biden signed that bill into law at the end of December.
The move, called for in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon's annual budget package, pays homage to Vanessa Guillen.
The 20-year-old army soldier was murdered by a fellow soldier in 2020 after being sexually harassed and telling her family she did not trust the military command to follow up on her complaint.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the order "honors the memory of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen," whose death is "catalyzing national attention to the scourge of sexual violence in our military and helping advance bipartisan military justice reform."
Biden tweeted earlier in the day that he was "signing an Executive Order to make sexual harassment an offense in the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
He added that the order is also meant to "strengthen the military's response to domestic violence and the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images."
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had previously appointed an independent commission to submit recommendations as to how best to deal with perpetrators of sexual violence in the armed forces, and how to prosecute them more effectively.
The commission concluded that removing decisions about prosecuting sexual assault from the military chain of command was the only solution.
Instead of incurring administrative sanctions as was previously the case, perpetrators may receive prison time.