Defense Secretary Austin suggests he supports a shift in how the military handles sex assault crimes.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III prompt to lawmakers on Thursday that he supports modifications to the legal guidelines that govern how the military handles sexual assault circumstances, a main shift for military management, which has lengthy resisted such modifications.

“Clearly, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working,” Mr. Austin mentioned in his opening remarks earlier than the Senate Armed Services Committee. “One assault is too many. The numbers of sexual assaults are still too high, and the confidence in our system is still too low.”

Mr. Austin seemed to be endorsing the suggestions of a panel he appointed to check the problem earlier this 12 months. That panel recommends that impartial military attorneys take over the function that commanders presently play in deciding whether or not to court-martial these accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment or home violence.

But he was clearly stopping in need of endorsing a measure long pushed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, that may lower out the military chain of command from choices over sexual assault, but additionally prolong exterior prosecutorial energy over many different severe crimes as effectively.

President Biden has endorsed her strategy, not less than for now, and her invoice has gained assist from not less than 70 members of the Senate — together with many who voted against the same bill in 2014, arguing it might undermine commanders, the lengthy held view of Pentagon leaders — and key members in the House.

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, believes Ms. Gillibrand’s invoice goes too far and has been working behind the scenes with Pentagon officers to reign it in.

“I want to be sure that whatever changes to the U.C.M.J. that I recommend to the president and ultimately to this committee, that they are scoped to the problem we are trying to solve, have a clear way forward on implementation, and ultimately restore the confidence of the force in the system,” Mr. Austin mentioned, referring to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is the basis of the American military authorized system. “You have my commitment to that, and also my commitment to working expeditiously as you consider legislative proposals.”

Mr. Austin’s remarks Thursday might set off an intense political battle that may check the energy of Ms. Gillibrand amongst her bipartisan Senate allies, together with Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority chief, who could possibly be compelled to select sides in figuring out the measure’s destiny, and the White House.

In both occasion, it appears clear that commanders are all however sure to lose full management over sexual assault prosecutions. “Change is coming to the department,” Mr. Reed mentioned Thursday in reference to the assault problem.

When he was confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Austin made sexual assault certainly one of his first priorities. In February, he appointed the impartial fee to look at the problem and provides suggestions that he and the service chiefs might take into account.

The members of the panel are looking for a new profession observe in the Defense Department in which choose advocates normal — military attorneys — can be specifically educated to cope with such circumstances. This alone can be a main shift in how the military does issues. Mr. Austin has mentioned he needs the service chiefs to evaluation the suggestions.

Momentum has been in place for such modifications since Mr. Biden was elected. Kathleen Hicks, the deputy protection secretary and the first lady to serve in the No. 2 function at the Pentagon, and General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have each mentioned they’ve been swayed that the present system doesn’t serve victims effectively.

A report out of Fort Hood, Texas, final 12 months that detailed a tradition of harassment and abuse gave gas to Ms. Gillibrand’s measure and parallel efforts in the House.

In 2019, the Defense Department found that there have been 7,825 studies of sexual assault involving service members as victims, a three p.c improve from 2018. The conviction fee for circumstances was unchanged from 2018 to 2019; 7 p.c of circumstances that the command took motion on resulted in conviction, the lowest fee since the division started reporting in 2010.

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