Sailors, Marines and midshipmen who report a sexual assault will no longer be punished for “minor collateral misconduct,” according to a new Department of the Navy policy implemented June 29.

Sailors and Marines who make an unrestricted report of their assault through the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office or the Family Advocacy Program will not be penalized if they were engaging in underage drinking at the time, or near the time, of the alleged assault; were involved in an unprofessional relationship with the accused perpetrator; or were violating other orders, such as curfews, at the time of the alleged assault.

“Choosing to report a sexual assault is already a major decision for a survivor,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said in a statement. “It is a first step to accessing the services they need and the justice they deserve. Removing this barrier empowers victims and survivors — they should not have to choose whether to implicate themselves by reporting a crime committed against them.”

The new policy directs commanding officers to work with staff judge advocates to determine if misconduct was minor. Even so, commanding officers may refer victims to receive substance abuse treatment or take other non-disciplinary actions in response.

“Collateral misconduct by the victim of a sexual assault is one of the most significant barriers to reporting because of the victim’s fear of punishment,” said Andrea Goldstein, the Navy Department’s assistant director for force resiliency, in a Navy news release. “We’re committed to removing barriers to reporting, restoring victim’s trust and improving victim care.”

The policy also requires data collection so department officials can understand how frequently these protections are being utilized and under what circumstances.

The change is one of several recent updates the Navy has implemented to its sexual harassment and assault policy. In April, the service announced it was stripping commanders in the Navy and Marine Corps of investigative authority over sexual harassment allegations within their own units.

The order instructs commanders, commanding officers and officers-in-charge who receive sexual harassment complaints to forward the 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.

Additionally, the Biden administration approved an executive order in January 2022 that includes sexual harassment in the Uniform Code of Military Justice under Article 134. Whereas sexual harassment previously could be prosecuted under Article 92 of the UCMJ as dereliction of duty or under Article 133 as conduct unbecoming, the executive order specifically lists sexual harassment as an offense under Article 134, the “general article.”

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