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Hagel: Scourge of sexual assault 'must be stamped out'

By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 2:02 PM EDT, Sat May 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Secretary Hagel's remarks follow allegations of sexual misconduct in the military
  • Department of Defense estimates 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual conduct last year
  • Obama addressed the issue on Friday at the Naval Academy

(CNN) -- Sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military "are a profound betrayal of sacred oaths and sacred trusts," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told cadets Saturday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"This scourge must be stamped out," he said during a commencement address. "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."

Hagel cited similar admonitions made Friday by President Barack Obama to newly commissioned officers at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Sexual assaults in the armed forces undermine Americans' confidence in the military, the commander-in-chief said.

"That's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes," Obama said. "Because they have no place in the greatest military on Earth."

Their comments came in the wake of a series of allegations of sexual impropriety in the military and an estimate that their incidence is growing:

-- This week, the Army said it had suspended Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, the top general at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, after allegations of adultery and assault.

-- Last week, a U.S. Army sergeant first class stationed at West Point was charged with covertly shooting videos of female cadets in showers and latrines.

-- This month, an Army sergeant first class assigned to the sexual assault prevention unit at Fort Hood, Texas, came under investigation for alleged sexual assault, pandering, abusive sexual contact and maltreatment of subordinates. He has been relieved of duty while investigators look in to the allegations.

-- Also this month, an Air Force officer who managed an assault prevention unit, was charged with sexual battery, accused of grabbing a woman and groping her buttocks and breasts in an Arlington County parking lot near his Washington office.

-- The Department of Defense estimated this month that 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact -- from groping to rape -- occurred last year in the military, 35% higher than the estimate from 2010. The vast majority of those incidents went unreported as crimes, the study showed.

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