(CNSNews.com) - A female high school student on Monday asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter about the "history of pervasive misogyny in the military," including sexual abuse.
Carter told her he's "aware that we put our people in circumstances unique to military life that can...create opportunities for predators."
The defense secretary was speaking at Abington High School in Pennsylvania, his alma mater, explaining the changes he wants to make to attract "the best of the best" to the nation's all-volunteer military.
He used "diversity" as one of the selling points in his speech:
"Finally, knowing how much your generation cares about diversity, drawing talent from a wide range of gender, racial, religious, cultural, economic, educational and all sorts of other backgrounds, we're going to keep making sure that anyone who's able and willing to serve their country has the full and equal opportunity to do so, whether you're a man or woman, gay, lesbian or straight, no matter what walk of life your family comes from. And we'll make sure you're treated with dignity and respect."
He also mentioned that the Defense Department has a "higher share of senior women leaders than America's most profitable companies do. And we're going to do even better, because that's the only way to compete in the 21st Century."
In the question and answer session that followed, a female student (the editor of the school newspaper) asked Carter about misogyny and sexual abuse in the military:
"You spoke about tolerance and diversity in the military," the student said, according to a transcript of the remarks. "And the military is more tolerant and diverse than ever. As of 2013, women are allowed on the front lines. And, as you said, there are more women in hiring positions in the military than there are in Fortune 500 companies. However, there is a history of pervasive misogyny in the military. And there have been issues of sexual abuse now and in the past. How do you plan to address these issues and try to make the military a safe and welcome place for women?"
"Well, you're absolutely right. It's a very important question," Carter replied. "The question for those of you who didn't hear is basically about sexual assault and harassment in the military. And let me tell you where I come from on that.
"I realize that these are phenomena that are widespread in society. But they're particularly offensive in the military. Because military life is based on honor, and it's based on trust. You need to be able to trust the people around you because your lives are at stake, potentially, together. And sexual assault undermines honor and trust.
"And on top of that, we're aware that we put our people in circumstances unique to military life that can make sexual assault and sexual mistreatment -- create opportunities for predators. They're in remote locations, it's a hierarchical system, and so forth.
"So, even though I understand it's disgraceful anywhere, it's widespread in society, there's absolutely no place in our military -- no place at all. And we have to completely defeat this in our military. It's completely contrary to what we stand for."
The students applauded him, according to the transcript.
In a report released in April 2014, the Defense Department said sexual assault "remains one of the most serious challenges facing our military."
Reports of alleged sexual assault increased in all four military services in fiscal year 2013, the Defense Department found.
In total, the DoD received 5,061 reports of alleged sexual assault involving one or more service members as either the victim or alleged suspect, a 50 percent increase over the 3,374 reports of received in FY 2012.
Of the 5,061 reports, about 54 percent involved service member-on-service member crime.
As Defense Secretary Carter mulls changes to make military service more enticing for the next generation, the military already has undergone major structural changes under President Obama.
The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in December 2010 allowed homosexuals to openly serve in the military.
And in January 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that women will no longer be excluded from direct ground combat.
“If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed, color, gender or sexual orientation,” Panetta said at the time.