Austin reached his decision following a report from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (IRC) – which he established earlier this year.
He promised to clamp down on sexual violence and discrimination in all forms upon taking his post earlier this year.
Austin said the report “provides us real opportunities to finally end the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.”
He will now need to work with Congress on amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“The IRC recommended the inclusion of other special victims’ crimes inside this independent prosecution system, to include domestic violence,” he said in a Tuesday statement obtained by Fox News. “I support this as well, given the strong correlation between these sorts of crimes and the prevalence of sexual assault.”
Austin said he will also be looking to implement changes in the military’s “approach on prevention, command climate, and victim services,” and he has directed military officials to put together a detailed plan.
The defense secretary said that additional resources and funding will be required by Congress but said it would “take time” to determine how much.
In April, the IRC – led by Lynn Rosenthal, a former White House advisor on violence against women – recommended that commanders no longer be involved in prosecuting sexual assault cases amongst the ranks.
The panel suggested that crimes involving sexual assault should instead be viewed by a designated independent judge, who would then report the incidents to a civilian-led office with the Chief Special Victim Prosecutor.
That independent judge would then decide if the incident should be prosecuted and if the charge should be taken to martial court, the Associated Press reported earlier this year.
Commanders will still be expected to lead by example – a precedent Austin has repeatedly called for.
“As I made clear on my first full day in office, this is a leadership issue,” Austin said Tuesday. “And we will lead. Our people depend upon it. They deserve nothing less.”