US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday called for the “scourge” of sexual assaults within the military to be “stamped out,” in a speech at the West Point military academy in New York.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony for newly commissioned officers, the Pentagon chief emphasized it would be their responsibility as rising leaders to “bring the best out” of themselves and their fellow soldiers.
“Sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military are a profound betrayal of sacred oaths and sacred trusts,” Hagel said, adding “this scourge must be stamped out.”
One day earlier, President Barack Obama made similar remarks to the graduating class at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, warning that sexual assaults “threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong.”
Their remarks follow a wave of high-profile sexual assault incidents in the military, prompting outrage and calls for new legislation.
One of the most recent sex abuse scandals emerged at West Point itself when an instructor was accused of filming some of the female cadets without permission, including while they were showering.
West Point has around 4,500 students, of whom 15 percent are women.
A Pentagon report issued this month showed a sharp rise in reports of “unwanted sexual contact” over the past two years, with prevention efforts so far failing to stem the tide.
Reports of sexual violence rose six percent a year, rising to nearly 3,400 cases in 2012, alone.
In his commencement address, Hagel also referred to the problems of alcohol and drug abuse, the growing number of suicides, and the increasing number of soldiers and veterans with mental health problems, after a decade of war.
“You will need to not just deal with these debilitating, insidious and destructive forces, but rather be the generation of leaders that stop it,” he told the young officers.