ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Choosing future Navy and Marine leaders as his audience, President Barack Obama issued a pointed call Friday for an end to sexual assaults in the military, appealing to graduating midshipmen to display honor and moral courage to contain what has become a growing epidemic.


Obama spoke at the commissioning ceremony for 1,047 midshipmen, telling the 841 men and 206 women that the wrongdoing of a few can damage the nation’s institutions, from government to Wall Street, and that “even in our military we’ve seen how the misconduct of some can have effects that ripple far and wide”


“Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they are threatening the trust and discipline that make out military strong,” he said.


The issue of sexual assault in the armed services has captured the attention of Washington, prompting Obama last week to meet with top military brass and Pentagon leaders at the White House, instructing them to lead a process to root out the problem.


A Pentagon report released earlier this month estimated that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year. It said thousands of victims are still unwilling to come forward despite stronger efforts to curb the crimes.


The report showed the number of sexual assaults actually reported by members of the military rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012. But a survey of personnel who were not required to reveal their identities showed the number of service members actually assaulted could be as high as 26,000. That figure is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.