Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke to West Point graduates on Saturday and gave a strong condemnation of the wave of sexual assaults that has rocked the American military. Hagel spoke at the commencement ceremony of the current West Point graduate class and called the sexual-assault scandal a "scourge that must be stamped out."
Hagel's remarks come after a wave of high-status cases and revelations about sexual assault in the American military that have shocked the public and congressional legislators. Both Secretary Hagel and President Barack Obama have made it clear that they wish to stop this problem immediately.
Hagel did not hold back in his disgust at the sexual assault problem and how it was a threat to the reputation of the military among society. During the speech he said, "Sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military are a profound betrayal – a profound betrayal – of sacred oaths and sacred trusts."
"This scourge must be stamped out. We are all accountable and responsible for ensuring that this happens. We cannot fail the Army or America. We cannot fail each other and we cannot fail the men and women that we lead."
On Friday President Obama gave a speech to the graduating class at the Naval Academy. In the speech he called upon the newest generation of military leaders to tackle the growing problem of sexual assault in the military. President Obama said during his speech that "Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong."
Obama also said, "We have to be determined to stop these crimes because they've got no place in the greatest military on Earth."
A report from the Pentagon earlier this month estimates that 26,000 sexual assaults occurred in 2012. This is a large increase from the year 2011’s report, where 19,00 sexual assaults were estimated to have occurred in the military.
Several individual high-profile sexual assaults have taken place in the past few months and grabbed headlines, giving the public specific examples they could see of the problem. The latest incident saw a member of the staff of West Point, Sergeant First Class Michael McClendon, be accused of secretly videotaping female cadets without their consent. He allegedly videotaped them in the bathroom or shower, sometimes entering the facilities without knocking.
This is only the latest in a series of incidents that have brought the military's sexual assault problem to the public. Earlier in May, an army sergeant at the base in Fort Hood, Texas was accused of sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, and maltreatment of subordinates by three women. He served as a coordinator for the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program in the Army’s 3rd Corps headquarters.
President Obama and Secretary Hagel’s strongly worded speeches speak to their desire to stamp out this problem of widespread sexual assault in the American military. But the difference between words and action are vast, and sweeping changes will be required to solve this terrible problem.