Nightly News   |  May 24, 2013

Obama implores Navy grads to end sexual assault

President Obama spoke to more than 1000 U.S. Naval Academy graduates in Annapolis, Md., Friday, calling for higher standards of conduct in the military. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports

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>>> president obama took on the growing problem of sexual assault and abuse in the armed services today. his speech at the graduating class of the u.s. naval academy . he was trying to send a message to a new generation of leaders as the pentagon struggles with how to fix the problem. nbc white house correspondent kristen welker has details on the story. good evening to you.

>> reporter: ann, good evening to you. president obama told the graduates the culture of sexual assault in the military has to end. he said it's more than a matter of conduct. it's a matter of national security . against a rainy sky president obama used today's graduation speech at the u.s. naval academy to call for higher standards of conduct in the military.

>> we need your honor. we need your courage.

>> reporter: he urged the future military leaders more than a thousand graduates to end sexual assault in the armed forces .

>> those who commit sexual assault not only are committing a crime. they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong. that's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes.

>> reporter: the stern words came almost three weeks after a report by the defense department revealed unreported sexual assaults in the military rose 37% in 2012 to an estimated 26,000 cases. the military has also faced a recent spate of sex assault scandals including the revelation this week that an army sergeant at west point had been accused of videotaping female cadets when they were in the bathroom or shower, prompting a vow from defense secretary chuck hagel to crack down.

>> we'll do everything we need to do to fix it.

>> reporter: today, mr. obama said the military culture also needs to change and cited a lack of trust in government institutions. a not so subtle reference to the controversy at the irs, justice and state department roiled washington and his administration.

>> it only takes the misconduct of a few to weaken the public trust in the government.

>> reporter: fundamental change has to come from the next generation of officers.

>> starting with the president going down through the officer core is needed. this should be unacceptable in society. it should be unthinkable in a structure like the military.

>> reporter: now defense secretary chuck hagel will deliver a similar message when he addresses graduates at west point, the nation's oldest military academy tomorrow. about a thousand cadets are expected to graduate. ann?

>> kristen, thank you tonight.