The Department of the Navy is stripping commanders in the Navy and Marine Corps of investigative authority over sexual harassment allegations within their own units.

According to a new message from Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, commanders, commanding officers and officers-in-charge who receive sexual harassment complaints must forward that complaint to the “next higher level commander in the chain of command” within 72 hours so an investigating officer can be appointed to launch an inquiry into the case.

“The next higher level commander shall appoint an investigating officer from outside the command of the subject and complainant,” the message said. “The investigating officer selected shall not be familiar with the subject or complainant.”

Once the investigation wraps up, the higher level commander will take action, which includes but isn’t limited to, “taking no action and closing the matter; taking administrative or disciplinary action; forwarding to another investigative agency; returning the investigation to the investigating officer for further investigation; or appointing another investigator for further investigation,” the message said.

“As your Secretary, I have witnessed first-hand the Honor, Courage, and Commitment you demonstrate each and every day,” Del Toro said in the ALNAV. “A safe and inclusive work environment is consistent with our core values, and promoting a positive culture will ensure we are fully ready to meet persistent global challenges. Leaders at all levels must model appropriate behavior and epitomize our high standards of dignity and respect for all.”

The policy, which took effect immediately, is temporary until the Department of the Navy secures the funding, staff and training for independent professionals to investigate sexual harassment complaints, according to the message.

That permanent solution stems from guidance the Department of Defense issued in September as part of a long-term plan to implement recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on sexual assault.

The guidance includes such provisions as setting up offices for special victim prosecutors to file charges and send cases to courts-martial and implementing involuntary separation for service members who have a report substantiated against them.

Additional changes to Department of the Navy policy and procedure are expected since the Biden administration signed an executive order in January 2022 that includes sexual harassment in the Uniform Code of Military Justice under Article 134, the message said.

“I expect these revisions to be complete no later than 180 days following a revision to the applicable DoD Instruction,” Del Toro said.

Previously, sexual harassment could be prosecuted under Article 92 of the UCMJ as dereliction of duty, under Article 93 as maltreatment, or under Article 133 as conduct unbecoming. But the executive order specifically delineates sexual harassment as a specific offense under Article 134, which is the “general article” and includes offenses such as adultery.

Officials say the change is intended to prevent sexual harassment in the military and boost accountability.

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