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Defense Secretary Calls on Naval Academy Grads to End Military Sexual Assault

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This month, the Naval Academy's 164th graduation ceremony ushered in more than a thousand new officers to the fleet. In total, the academy's graduation class produced 784 Navy ensigns and 265 Marine Corps second lieutenants. Approximately 20% of commissioned officers were women.

During the commencement and commission of the Class of 2014, keynote speaker Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered a speech in which he called upon the class to lead a new generation of service members. While his speech touched upon pressing military matters of the day – including U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, Hagel also devoted a portion of his speech to call on graduates to eliminate sexual harassment and assault within the military.

Hagel's call for a reduction in military sexual assaults comes after a Department of Defense report released in early May showed a 50% increase in the number of reports of sexual assault. Shortly after the report was released, criticism was raised over low prosecution and conviction rates.

Aside from ongoing debates, many experts and officials agree that significant progress has been made in addressing military sexual assault, promoting a more transparent environment, and protecting all service members. Still, many also agree that there is still work to be done. In his speech, Hagel called on graduates to "make sure everyone is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."

By addressing the issue of sexual assault in his commencement speech, Hagel may have also opened the door to more Unlawful Command Influence motions. Unlawful command influence – which military courts have increasingly struggled with – refers to undue influence from high-ranking officials. What may be interpreted as a simple admonition may be interpreted as a command. Just this month, a sexual assault conviction was overturned because a Marine Corp commandant's statements against sexual assault appeared to be unlawful command influence.

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