President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday afternoon to make sexual harassment a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, part of historic changes to military law stemming from the murder of 20-year-old Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen in April 2020.
Under the new law, commanders will be removed from prosecution decisions in all cases of sexual abuse. Instead, a new Office of Special Trial, independent of the chain of command, will oversee those cases.
The action comes after Congress approved significant changes in December to how the military prosecutes major crimes, including rape and sexual assault. Congress gave Biden 30 days to approve the changes.
"This feels so unreal. My little sister shed light on the epidemic of sexual misconduct in the military. You’ll never be forgotten. I miss you so much. Hope you’re proud!" tweeted Vanessa Guillen's older sister, Mayra.
The executive order will also “strengthen the military’s response” to domestic violence and instances of service members sharing “intimate visual images” without permission, the White House said.
Guillen was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas when she was killed by another soldier. Her dismembered body was found two months later by a river not far from the base. Guillen’s family said she confideed to them that she was being sexual harassed by another soldier on the base but she never reported it officially due to fear of retaliation.
Her case exposed a scourge of sexual abuse cases on military bases and prompted the viral hashtag, #IamVanessaGuillen, as other members of the military began sharing their own stories of sexual abuse.