New Army office to address sex crimes removed from chain of command

New Army office to address sex crimes removed from chain of command
© getty: Christine Wormuth

The Army plans to establish an independent office for handling sex crimes that is removed from the chain of command, according to recently released comments from its top civilian official.

In comments made last week, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth did not mention when such an office will be created or how it will be organized. However, the secretary did make clear that the service intends to take sex crimes out of the hands of commanders after years of pushback. 

“It’s critical that we respond effectively and sensitively when sexual harassment or assault does happen,” Wormuth said Sept. 7 during a discussion hosted at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. “It’s our responsibility to make sure our leaders have the resources they need to take care of our Soldiers and their families when something happens.”

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The action follows recommendations from the Pentagon’s Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military to remove sexual assault charging decisions from the chain of command — a practice long viewed by many as hurtful to the prosecution process of sex crimes. 

The recommendations have received widespread support, with Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Marine who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal sentenced Air Force general becomes second woman to head US military command Military judge blasts Marine Corps's handling of officer who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal MORE in July backing the review’s findings.  The House and Senate are also both looking to insert language in the annual National Defense Authorization Act to make such recommendations law. 

Wormuth said the Army branch will focus on three areas including prevention, response to incidents and accountability and targets spurred by last year’s Fort Hood Independent Review Committee findings.

The committee found that the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program faltered, stating that it was “structurally weak and under-resourced” and there was a “pervasive lack of confidence” in it.  

The damning report, which was ordered following the April 2020 death of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, highlighted a climate of widespread sexual misconduct at the base. 

Wormuth pledged to set up the office along with other initiatives “swiftly," saying, “we have to demonstrate the courage to take action.”