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US Defense Chief Calls for End to Military Sex Assaults

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during graduation and commissioning ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., May 25, 2013.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for an end to sexual assaults in the military Saturday in a commencement speech to graduates of the West Point military academy in New York state.

Hagel called sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military a "profound betrayal" of sacred oaths and trusts and a "scourge" that must be stamped out.

A day earlier, President Barack Obama delivered a similar message to the graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland, saying sexual assaults threaten trust in the U.S. armed forces.

The two leaders' comments come amid a wave of high-profile sexual assault incidents in the U.S. military. One of the latest occurred at West Point itself when a sergeant was charged with secretly videotaping female cadets, including while they were showering.

A recent Pentagon report found a 37 percent rise in reports of "unwanted sexual contact" last year. It estimates there were 26,000 cases in 2012, from groping to rape.

The recent arrests of military personnel on sexual assault charges have added to the military's embarrassment.

The developments have prompted some members of Congress to introduce legislation to toughen the Pentagon's handling of sex crimes.