Shanahan challenges Naval Academy graduates to 'set standard' on stopping sexual assault

Shanahan challenges Naval Academy graduates to 'set standard' on stopping sexual assault
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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Friday called on Naval Academy graduates to “set the standard” and stop sexual harassment and assault in the ranks.

“I need you young Lieutenants and Ensigns to set the standard on preventing sexual harassment and assault in our ranks. The status quo won’t cut it,” Shanahan said at the Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, Md.

“Sexual assault and harassment degrades the dignity of our teammates, and we are on the side of personal dignity in this era of renewed great power competition.”

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A Pentagon report released earlier this month found that the number of cases of unwanted sexual contact — a term that covers groping to rape — jumped to 20,500 in 2018 from 14,900 in 2016.

The Marine Corps had the highest rate of sexual assault among service members, at almost 11 percent, followed by the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Defense Department officials have worked for years to attempt to diminish the number, but numerous new initiatives put in place over the last several years have failed to make much of an impact.

“The results of this report are not acceptable by any standard,” Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Pentagon’s office of force resiliency, said at the time of the report’s release. “We will learn from what our women and men told us this year and adjust our strategies.”

Shanahan asked the graduates to “set the climate” and call out sexual harassment and assault in order to “transform our Navy and Marine Corps [into] the institutions they were made to be.”

His urging comes as the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday moved forward its annual defense authorization bill that holds a number of reforms to policies to curtail military sexual assault and harassment, including making sexual harassment a stand-alone offense in the military's criminal justice system. 

The committee’s fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes provisions to help prevent and deal with sexual assault, including new training requirements, rules regarding victim support, and order the development of a Pentagon-wide data management system to better share and track information on criminal cases.