Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel advised graduates from the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point to not just deal with the “debilitating, insidious and destructive forces” of sexual assault now plaguing the military, but to be the generation to stop it.
“Sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military are a profound betrayal—a profound betrayal—of sacred oaths and sacred trust,” Hagel said Saturday at the academy’s commencement ceremony. “We cannot fail the army or America. We cannot fail each other. And we cannot fail the men and women that we lead.”
Hagel’s condemnation echoed President Obama’s address to Naval Academy graduates Friday when the commander in chief said sexual assault “has no place in the greatest military on Earth.”
The strong remarks from both the president and the military’s top brass comes after a string of sexual assault allegations emerged in recent months, exposing a culture of harassment in the military. A recent Pentagon report estimated that over 26,000 personnel were sexually assaulted last year. Only just over 3,000 cases were reported.
West Point, the very place where Hagel addressed graduates, is currently wading through the scandal after a sergeant and decorated Iraq War veteran on-staff at the academy just this week was accused of filming female cadets—even in showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms—without their knowledge.
“This scourge must be stamped out,” Hagel said Saturday. “We are all accountable and responsible for ensuring that this happens.”