President Obama used his commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday to argue sexual assaults in the ranks are threatening the military's strength.
Obama said assaults “threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong.”
The Pentagon is grappling with a rise in the number of reported sexual assaults in the military as well as a series of stories that have led lawmakers to question whether it is taking the issue seriously.
An Air Force officer who ran the service's Sexual Assault and Prevention Office was arrested and charged with sexual battery in a Washington, D.C., suburb earlier this month.
Separately, the conviction of another Air Force officer found guilty of aggravated sexual assault by a military jury was overturned by an Air Force commander. That case has spurred calls in Congress to change the military justice system, and the issue is expected to be debated as part of a Defense authorization bill.
Obama has pushed for the military to do more to address the problem of sexual assault within its ranks in the wake of a report estimating there were 26,000 assaults in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010.
In his address, Obama noted that the military remains the most trusted U.S. institution, but warned that it only takes the actions of a few to erode that trust.
“And yet, we must acknowledge that even here even in our military, we’ve seen how the misconduct of some can have effects ripple far and wide,” Obama said.
The president held a meeting last week with the Joint Chiefs and service secretaries to discuss this issue, which he warned that sexual assaults undermine the trust that's needed within the military.
“Not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make, and has made, the military less effective than it can be,” Obama said. “And as such, it is dangerous to our national security.”
In his speech Friday, Obama urged the new officers to do the right thing at the moment “nobody’s watching.”
“We need your honor and we need your courage — yes, the daring that tells you to move toward danger when every fiber of your being tells you to go the other way,” Obama said.