President Barack Obama sharply condemned an epidemic of sexual assaults within the armed forces, telling a crowd of Marines on Wednesday that the crimes threaten to undercut the military's integrity.
"It undermines what this military stands for and what the Marine Corps stands for when sexual assault takes place within our units," Obama told a crowd at Camp Pendleton.
Obama said his administration would take every stride to "stop these crimes of sexual assault and upholds the honor and integrity that defines our military services," adding that "that message is coming all the way from the top," referencing his own role as commander in chief.
The military has weathered growing outrage involving its handling of allegations of sexual assault, particularly against enlisted women. A Pentagon report in May was particularly alarming for its finding that sexual assault within the military is on the rise, and that as many as 26,000 instances of sexual assault went unreported in 2012 alone.
The president, following the release of that report, vowed to seek the fullest prosecution possible of those accused of assault.
“I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I've got their backs,” Obama said on May 7. “I will support them, and we're not gonna tolerate this stuff. And there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted.”
The sexual assault epidemic prompted lawmakers on Capitol Hill to ponder reforms to the military's procedure for handling allegations of sexual assault. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has pushed for legislation to remove handling of such allegations from the chain of command. Gillibrand recently picked up crucial support for that legislation from two conservative senators.