In light of the rising reports of sexual harassment within the US Armed Forces, President Joe Biden has made sexual harassment an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to address a rise in sexual violence and lewd acts within the military.

This executive order signed by Biden also draws from the Vanessa Guillén incident, where 20-year-old US Army Solider Guillén went missing in April. Two months later, her remains were found buried nearby the Leon River. It was revealed that she was bludgeoned to death murdered by another soldier, Aaron David Robinson, who later committed suicide. His girlfriend, Cecily Anne Aguilar, had helped dismember Vanessa’s body before being buried along the river.

Vanessa Guillén in her military uniform (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vanessa_Guillen_portrait.jpg
Vanessa Guillén in her military uniform. US Army

Guillén beforehand had told her family that she was continuously being sexually harassed by a sergeant within Fort Hood, Texas. Secretary Ryan McCarthy had reported that Fort Hood had the highest rates of murder and sexual harassment in the army, thus ordering an independent review of the leadership at the Fort.

A statement from the White House said that the signing of the executive order was a method to strengthen the military’s justice system and prevent gender-based violence in the future. The necessity for reforms came about when RAND Research reported that over 20,000 military service members were sexually assaulted in 2018. Furthermore, it also stated that 1 in 16 women and 1 in 143 men were experiencing sexual assault within the Department of Defense.

In fact, a Pentagon report in 2021 revealed that 64% of sexual assault survivors did not have properly trained prosecutors to help them with their cases, and 94% of victims in the Air Force were assigned prosecutors without any prior experience in handling sexual assault cases. This leads to the conclusion that not all sexual harassment victims obtain the support they are entitled to and that the system is working against them.

Guillén’s death sparked the “I Am Vanessa Guillén” movement, which sought more systemic changes within the military.

Women activists demanding justice for Vanessa Guillen who was sexually harassed before she was killed in Fort Wood (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Press_conference_demanding_justice_for_Vanessa_Guill%C3%A9n,_Washington,_D.C._(July_21,_2020).jpg
Women activists demanding justice for Vanessa Guillen, who was sexually harassed before she was killed in Fort Wood. Congresswoman Julia Brownley(@RepBrownley)/ Twitter/Wikimedia Commons

The new executive order is in line with the changes made with the annual defense authorization bill, where harassment’s definition is widened to include unwanted sexual advances, sexual favors, or other inappropriate conducts of sexual nature. Furthermore, the bill also highlights the vital component of coercion and intimidation within sexual harassment cases—that if they refuse to take part in sexual acts, their career may be terminated, or they may be harmed. These new additions also include the significant provisions that harassment can happen either online or in-person and the sharing of intimate photographs that were shared without consent.

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