NEW YORK – U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told cadets Saturday that they must stamp out the “scourge” of sexual assault within the military as American leaders grappled with the growing problem.
Hagel’s call came amid a wave of high-profile sexual assaults in the military that has prompted outrage and calls for new legislation.
Next month, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the heads of all five military branches will make a rare appearance together before lawmakers to testify on the issue and proposals to address it.
Speaking to newly commissioned officers at a graduation ceremony at the West Point military academy in New York, Hagel emphasized it would be their responsibility as rising leaders to “bring the best out” of themselves and their fellow soldiers.
Hagel’s remarks were delivered a day after President Barack Obama made a similar plea to the graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, warning that sexual assaults “threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong.”
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 6 percent a year, jumping to nearly 3,400 cases in 2012 alone.