WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday that made sexual harassment an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the legal framework that governs members of the United States military.
According to the White House, Executive Order 12743 “strengthens the military justice system’s response to gender-based violence and delivers on key recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military,” an initiative launched last March by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Biden’s executive order also “strengthens the military justice response in prosecuting cases of domestic violence, and fully implements changes to the military justice code to criminalize the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images,” according to the White House press release.
The order went into effect immediately after signing on Wednesday.
The order reinforces reforms to the military justice system the President signed into law in December through the National Defense Authorization Act, which included components of the “I am Vanessa Guillén” Act.
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. pic.twitter.com/7BJoWeBJoT
— President Biden (@POTUS) January 27, 2022
Guillén, a 20-year-old Army specialist stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was murdered by a fellow soldier on April 22, 2020. Some of her remains were discovered buried along the Leon River over two months later, sparking outrage and memorials nationwide, including murals in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and Guillén’s hometown of Houston, Texas.
In September 2020, lawmakers led by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the legislation in Guillén’s name, aimed at strengthening sexual harassment enforcement within the U.S. armed services.
“It’s not fair that this had to happen to Vanessa for everyone to pay attention,” Vanessa’s sister Mayra said at a news conference announcing the legislation. “She is now an American hero that will save lots of lives.”
Vanessa’s family said that prior to her disappearance she had been sexually harassed and that she didn’t think she could tell her superiors.
“It took so much to put my feelings aside and fight for what’s right,” tweeted Mayra Guillén. “I didn’t have a chance to grieve… Looking for you on a daily basis for almost two months, not knowing the outcome. Tears of both joy and sadness. You made the world a better place. Now let’s fight for justice.”
It took so much to put my feelings aside and fight for what’s right. I didn’t have a chance to grieve… Looking for you on a daily basis for almost two months, not knowing the outcome. Tears of both joy and sadness. You made the world a better place. Now let’s fight for justice. pic.twitter.com/WOLNLbaNuV
— Mayra Guillen (@mguilen_) January 26, 2022
“This is a testament to Vanessa’s legacy and her family’s resiliency, and I commend Biden’s action on this critical issue,” tweeted Rep. Speier. “But more attention is needed!”
Julie Chavez Rodriguez, White House director for intergovernmental affairs, echoed Speier. “[The President’s executive order] makes important changes to the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and will help save lives,” she tweeted.
Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports