United States President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday making sexual harassment an offence in the US military justicial code. 

The provision was included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and required Biden to sign the order within 30 days of the bill becoming law. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this move was a ‘key recommendation’ from the Defense Department’s Independent Review Commission on military Sexual Assault. This was among nearly 80 suggestions to reform the military justice system actions against sexual abuse. 

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She added the decision “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,” according to reports by CNN.

Guillen had been killed by a colleague in 2020 after being sexually abused and conveying to her family that she did not think the military command would take action on her complaint. 

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This year’s NDAA, the Pentagon’s annual budget package, changes how such complaints must be received and responded to within the military establishment. A provision requires complaints to be forwarded to independent investigators and removes commanders from ‘decisions related to the prosecution of covered crimes’, including sexual assault, murder, rape and manslaughter. These would now be sent to an Office of the Special Trial Counsel that would be part of each service. 

Further, those found guilty could now be liable to serve prison time, as opposed to facing administrative sanctions like before, reported AFP.

Biden tweeted Wednesday, “Today, I signed an Executive Order to strengthen how our military justice system addresses several forms of gender-based violence — and added sexual harassment as an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in honor of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén.”

(With inputs from CNN)