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U.S. military sex assault cases should be prosecuted outside chain of command: panel

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A commission on sexual assault set up by the Pentagon has recommended that the United States military take the decision to prosecute cases of sexual assault out of the military’s chain of command, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

If the initial recommendations made by the independent commission are accepted by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, it would be a major change in the military.

Advocates and lawmakers have for years been calling for the military commanders to be taken out of the decision making process when it comes to prosecuting sexual assault cases, arguing that they are inclined to overlook the issue.

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The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Austin had not made a decision yet and would consult with leaders of the different military branches before making one.

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“The secretary has asked the services to provide their candid assessment and feedback of these initial recommendations by the end of May,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

In March, the head of the commission, Lynn Rosenthal, said that all options were on the table when dealing with sexual assault in the military.

Sexual assault and harassment in the U.S. military is largely under-reported and came under renewed scrutiny recently.

Last year, an investigative panel looking into violent crimes and abuse at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas said it found a command structure that was “permissive” of sexual assaults.

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The U.S. commission’s recommendation comes as Canada faces its own reckoning over sexual misconduct within its armed forces and how those complaints are handled.

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Opposition MPs as well as current and former women military members have called for an outside investigation into the issue.

They have also called for an independent body with civilian oversight of the military to handle and investigate complaints as they’re brought forward, similar to the U.S. commission.

The Liberal government has promised for months it will announce steps on how to address sexual misconduct and reporting within the military, but so far no announcement has been made.

–With files from Global News

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