I strongly support Secretary Austin’s announcement that he is accepting the core recommendations put forward by the Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault (IRC), including removing the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command and creating highly specialized units to handle these cases and related crimes. Ending violence against women and eliminating sexual assault against any person in our country has been a priority for me throughout my career in public service. Sexual assault is an abuse of power and an affront to our shared humanity. And sexual assault in the military is doubly damaging because it also shreds the unity and cohesion that is essential to the functioning of the U.S. military and to our national defense.
Yet, for as long as we have abhorred this scourge, the statistics and the stories have grown worse. We need concrete actions that fundamentally change the way we handle military sexual assault and that make it clear that these crimes will not be minimized or dismissed. They will be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to their fullest extent. We will also prioritize effective prevention strategies; promote safe, healthy, and respectful climates; and improve services to address the trauma that sexual assault victims experience and to facilitate their healing and recovery.
I want to thank Lynn Rosenthal for her leadership of the IRC and her decades of dedicated work to end sexual assault and gender-based violence. To everyone who served on the IRC, thank you for your tireless work to deliver thoughtful, effective, actionable recommendations for how we can drive sexual assault and harassment from the ranks of the United States military.
I also want to recognize the determined leadership within Congress over the years—in particular of Senator Gillibrand, Senator Ernst, Representative Speier, and Representative Mullin, who have worked in a strong bipartisan way to support needed change and to keep this issue at the forefront of our agenda. I look forward to working with Congress to implement these necessary reforms and promote a work environment that is free from sexual assault and harassment for every one of our brave service members.
Finally, I want to recognize the experience of our service members who have survived sexual assault and the bravery of those who have shared their stories with the world and advocated for reform. This kind of violation and trauma should never occur. You have a right to be heard. You have a right to justice. And for all those in the ranks who have suffered an assault and its after effects in silence, whether because you felt that you would not receive the support you deserve, or because you feared the repercussions for yourself and your career—I hope this announcement offers some reassurance that the Department of Defense leadership stands with you, starting with your Commander in Chief.
I also want to honor the pain of those families whose loved one did not survive an assault or the struggle with PTSD that so often follows in the wake of sexual assault. The hurt of that loss is unimaginable.
Today’s announcement is the beginning, not the end of our work. This will be among the most significant reforms to our military undertaken in recent history, and I’m committed to delivering results. Keeping our country safe has to start with prioritizing the safety of those who proudly sign up to serve our country. And today’s announcement represents an important and overdue step in the right direction.