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Obama: Sexual assault threatens trust in military

  • A graduating U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman marches into the Academy's graduation and commissioning ceremonies, Friday, May 24, 2013, in Annapolis, Md. President Barack Obama urged new graduates to exhibit honor and courage in tackling incidents of sexual assault as they assume leadership positions in the military. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

    A graduating U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman marches into the Academy's graduation and commissioning ceremonies, Friday, May 24, 2013, in Annapolis, Md. President Barack Obama urged new graduates to exhibit honor and courage in tackling incidents of sexual assault as they assume leadership positions in the military. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • President Barack Obama speaks at the commencement ceremony for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Friday, May 24, 2013. The president urged new graduates to exhibit honor and courage in tackling incidents of sexual assault as they assume leadership positions in the military. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    President Barack Obama speaks at the commencement ceremony for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Friday, May 24, 2013. The president urged new graduates to exhibit honor and courage in tackling incidents of sexual assault as they assume leadership positions in the military. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • A graduating U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman marches into the Academy's graduation and commissioning ceremonies, Friday, May 24, 2013, in Annapolis, Md. President Barack Obama urged new graduates to exhibit honor and courage in tackling incidents of sexual assault as they assume leadership positions in the military. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • President Barack Obama speaks at the commencement ceremony for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Friday, May 24, 2013. The president urged new graduates to exhibit honor and courage in tackling incidents of sexual assault as they assume leadership positions in the military. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

With a growing sexual assault epidemic staining the military, President Obama urged U.S. Naval Academy graduates yesterday to remember their honor depends on what they do when nobody is looking and said the crime has “no place in the greatest military on earth.”

The commander in chief congratulated the 1,047 midshipmen graduating at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, telling the 841 men and 206 women that they have proven themselves morally by meeting rigorous standards at the academy. But their commencement celebration came in the midst of reports of widespread sexual assault throughout the military, and Obama ended his 20-minute address by recognizing “how the misconduct of some can have effects that ripple far and wide.”

“Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong,” Obama said. “That’s why we have to be determined to stop these crimes.”

His pointed comments were aimed at rooting out the problem at a time when Republicans have been criticizing Obama for not responding forcefully enough to controversies including last year’s deadly attack in Libya and political targeting at the IRS. But Obama was quick to express outrage over the reports of sexual assault, saying he has no tolerance for it.

The Pentagon released a report earlier this month estimating that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year and that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward.

The applause that had accompanied earlier portions of Obama’s Naval Academy speech, as he mentioned the Navy Seal’s killing of Osama bin Laden and called for the building of a powerful 300-ship fleet, fell to silence as he turned to the sexual assault scandal. Midshipmen and spectators watching under cool gray skies as a light rain fell listened silently as he repeated the refrain: “We need your honor.”

Obama urged the graduates to use the leadership skills and values learned at the academy to help prevent behavior that can damage the image of the United States overseas.

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