Biden pledges to end ‘scourge of sexual assault in the military’
President Biden on Monday pledged to “end the scourge of sexual assault” in the military while marking International Women’s Day by honoring two female generals he has nominated to helm combatant commands.
Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost and Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson are both nominated to positions as 4-star combatant commanders. The two were not elevated under the Trump administration because Defense officials held them back, fearing former President Trump would not agree to it.
The Biden administration has made clear it intends to address the pervasive issue of sexual assault and harassment in the military, last month ordering a civilian-led commission at the Pentagon to investigate the problem.
“We have to take on sexual assault and harassment and violence against women in the military,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “Sexual assault is abhorrent and wrong at any time, and in our military so much of unit cohesion is built on trusting your fellow service members to have your back. There’s nothing less than a threat to our national security.”
“This is going to be an all-hands-on-deck effort under my administration to end the scourge of sexual assault in the military,” Biden continued. “And we’re going to be focused on that from the very top.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has also stated that tackling military sexual assault and harassment is one of his top priorities on the job and separately has directed Defense officials to look into current practices in place to curb the issue.
Biden, Austin and Vice President Harris all spoke at the event in the East Room of the White House where Van Ovost and Richardson were recognized.
If confirmed, Van Ovost would lead the Transportation Command, which manages the military’s global transportation network, while Richardson would become the head of Southern Command, which handles military activities in Latin America.
“Each of these women have led careers demonstrating incomparable skill, integrity and duty to country,” Biden said. “At every step. they’ve also helped push open the doors of opportunity to women in our military.”
Biden said it was imperative to “shine the light” on their accomplishments in order to demonstrate to new female service members what is possible.
“Recruiting more women to our military, adjusting policies to retain more women, enforcing policies to protect women and ensure they are heard, and advancing more women on fair and equal footing will without any question make our nation safer,” Harris, who is the first female vice president, said. “And that’s the work ahead.”
Biden has made elevating women to high-level positions and upholding women’s rights key priorities of his administration in its first weeks.
Earlier Monday, Biden signed an executive order establishing the Gender Policy Council at the White House which will be responsible for advancing gender equity, addressing gender-based discrimination and violence and ensuring women’s rights are upheld in the United States and globally.
In timing with International Women’s Day, Biden also directed the Department of Education to review the Trump-era rule on campus sexual misconduct allegations, in what is expected to be the first step in a lengthy process to undo the policy of the previous administration.