WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Congress Wednesday he is going to “criminalize” sexual harassment in the military. Shanahan is expected to issue a directive to the Defense Department making sexual harassment a stand-alone crime under military law, according to a US defense official.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Shanahan said, “This would be news breaking, we’re going to criminalize certain activities in this next year to reflect the seriousness that we’re going to take on certain behaviors.”
Currently, sexual harassment can fall under other legal violations of military behavior. It is not clear if Shanahan would need congressional approval to introduce a major change to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the official said. It’s also not yet clear exactly what forms of harassment would be cited in any new law or regulation.
The move to make sexual harassment a military crime has emerged from recommendations made by a sexual assault accountability task force that was assembled at the request of Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally in March.
“The Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigations Task Force assessed every step of the military justice process, and identified ways to provide commanders with all available tools, authorities, information, and guidance to hold alleged offenders appropriately accountable and support the victim, while protecting the rights of the victim and the accused throughout the military justice process,” the defense official said in a statement.
One of the recommendations from the task force was “to take steps to make sexual harassment a stand-alone military crime,” the official said, adding that Shanahan “will be releasing direction to the department soonest.” The task force’s report is expected to be released on Thursday.
The Defense Department on Thursday is also expected to release a report on sexual assault in the military, showing a significant increase over a two-year period, according to several defense officials. The report is expected to outline that there have been hundreds more sexual assaults than in the previous two years covered by the last report.