A recent Department of Defense report estimates that the armed forces had about 29,000 incidents of sexual assault in 2012, an increase from the last year.

Leaders at all levels have been attempting to combat this issue with mandatory training at every level, training that teaches soldiers what to do in case they or a compatriot is assaulted.

I was drunk and about to be sick.

I had a funny taste in my mouth like metal or blood. I pulled against his grip, but he wouldn’t let go. He kept talking to me; reassuring me that he wouldn’t hurt me that everything was going to be okay.

No, I said, trying to talk him out of whatever he had on his mind. He jerked on my shorts, the zipper dropped and my shorts followed. Grabbing my hands, he sat back on the ground pulling me on top of him. I couldn’t roll to the left or right because of the sharp branches and bushes that dug into my knees.

I don’t remember his words anymore but I remember the tone: calm and gentle, like it would be okay. He grabbed my arm with one hand and tried shoving himself inside me with the other hand.

I said no again and again. He kept pushing himself inside me and I tried to pull away and I tried to lean to the side only to have the bushes bite into my knees. He kept shoving and I couldn’t make him stop and I did the last thing I could think to do to get him to let me go - I pretended to pass out.

I let my body go limp and didn’t respond, he shook me and then pushed me off.

Stories like the above, from Michelle Monte, an Army veteran who was sexually assaulted at her advanced individual training site, are becoming more common as the Army increases its sexual assault prevention efforts across the force and more service members are speaking out about their ordeals.

“We all have to sit down and have a very candid discussion about sexual assault,” said Col. Chad B. McRee, commander, 16th Military Police Brigade at Fort Bragg. “Sexual assault is affecting all of us and if you aren’t taking it serious — you need to take it serious. If you don’t understand it, you need to understand it.”

A recent Department of Defense report estimates that the armed forces had about 29,000 incidents of sexual assault in 2012, an increase from the last year.

Leaders at all levels have been attempting to combat this issue with mandatory training at every level, training that teaches Soldiers what to do in case they or someone they know is assaulted.

Leaders at every level need to change the culture within their sectors of influence, said McRee. “We can do this by establishing environments that are intolerant of these types of action — whether it be sexual assault, racism or any of these types of things. But more importantly we need to send a message that we will deal with it in the appropriate way and by taking care of our victims — this is the key,” he said.

Spc. Jane Jones (not her real name) found it hard to trust her leaders or fellow Soldiers. Jones was sexually assaulted at her previous duty station in her barracks room by another Soldier — someone she considered a friend.

“I’m irritated and confused  — we talk about the Army values, like integrity and doing the right thing,” said Jones, a signaleer currently assigned to Fort Bragg. “How can you expect a change, if you aren’t enforcing a change? You can give classes and say this is bad, but when you give the consequences and say this person will be subject to (the Uniformed Code of Military Justice) and go to jail, but nothing happens, what’s the point?” asked Jones.

The number of sexual assaults that are reported are but a fraction of the assaults actually committed. Many sexual assault victims say they don’t report the crime out of embarrassment or for fear of reprisal.

“Recently I went up to my youngest daughter’s university and I asked her (for) a sensing of her college campus. Why do victims feel so uncomfortable coming forward,” said McRee. “Her response was that they feel ostracized and embarrassed because of the way they’re treated right from the get-go. We can fix that, as leaders we can change the way victims are perceived,” he added.

When someone is sexually assaulted and it is reported, this sets off a chain of events based on the type of report – either  restricted and unrestricted reports.

A restricted report, the most common one filed in 2012, allows the victim to receive medical care and counseling, but doesn’t file an official report with law enforcement or the Department of the Army. Unrestricted reporting however, starts an immediate investigation into the crime.

When a person is ready to make a report, the people on the front lines are the unit’s victim advocates. Currently there are about 800 at Fort Bragg, assigned to every company and battalion, with a sexual assault response coordinator at the brigade level and higher.

“I wait for them to say something and let them tell me whatever they’d like to tell me,” said Sgt. 1st Class Laanna Moir, the SARC for the 16th MP Bde, Criminal Investigation Division’s 10th MP Battalion, and Headquarters and Headquarters Bn., XVIII Airborne Corps. “Then I brief them on reporting options and find out if they’ve spoke with anyone else in order to determine if it will be a restricted or unrestricted report.”

The only people that a victim can speak to in order for a report to stay restricted is: a sexual assault response coordinator, a unit victim advocate, chaplain, mental health professional or medical personnel. If the victim mentions it (or has mentioned it) to a member of their chain of command, law enforcement personnel or anyone else, the ability to make a restricted report is lost and it automatically must become an unrestricted report.

“Then I’d ask them if they’d like to receive a forensic exam,” said Moir. “Even if they didn’t, I’d suggests they go and get tested for (sexually transmitted infections) or pregnancy.”

The next stop is at a medical facility, where if not already accompanied by a VA/SARC, one is called.

At Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center, the process begins at the emergency department. The first part of victim care is to find out if that person is okay. Then a sexual assault nurse examiners conducts a sexual assault medical forensic exam to collect and document physical evidence of the trauma.

The department’s social worker is notified and provides the patient with necessary information including mind and body care follow-ups from WAMC sexual assault care professionals.

“I offer them access to counseling, even to set it up for them, but victims aren’t required or forced to take part in any counseling,” said Moir.

“I chose not to receive any counseling or anything because I was in such strong denial,” said Jones. “It took a major breakdown ... having my world came crashing down around me before it really started to affect me. I just started counseling here at Bragg. It’s helpful and I feel understood. If I would have spoken to someone sooner, I feel like I would be in a much better state now that I am,” explained Jones.

“Sometimes when a person has experienced trauma, and we’ll call a sexual assault a traumatic experience, it impacts each person differently,” said Sarah Naradzay, a licensed clinical social worker and Fort Bragg’s sexual assault care coordinator.

“As a clinical therapist, I perform assessments, identify symptoms that clients report and provide a diagnoses linked with symptoms reported,” said Naradzay. “Then I’d provide various kinds of therapy to help clients regain comfortable functionality.”

Different people require different types of treatments ranging from one, to the average ten sessions – whatever is needed by the client, said Naradzay, who sees only active-duty Soldiers and their adult dependents.

“Some folks are more resilient and can order that event in the mind. They’re clear about the fact that they aren’t responsible and they don’t struggle with issues that may prompt guilt or shame and they recover very quickly,” said Naradzay. “Other people have physiological and emotional symptoms that linger and it’s helpful for them to have some treatment therapy.”

The other half of the WAMC sexual assault care duo is the sexual assault care physician from the obstetric and gynecology department (female victims) or from the Family medicine department (male victims) who follow up with patients with medical issues from the assault.

Once the victim has been cared for medically, the next stop for the unrestricted reporter is the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, that will investigate the charges of sexual assault.

Once the complaint is received, an investigation is launched with CID working hand-in-hand with the chain-of-command, the SARC and the staff judge advocate.

As the investigation continues, the investigating agents keep the victim appraised of the process, providing updates as needed.

The Army has a process in place to help victims,  prosecute crimes and convey a strong prevention message, so why is sexual assault still prevalent in the force?

“It comes down to leadership — are you enabling this behavior? Are you establishing trust at every level? Are we setting the example of behavior that we are expecting from people? We can talk all day about how (sexual assault prevention) is important, but if we never talk to our Soldiers about it, or if we’re never at training to spur discussion, then the Soldiers will see right through it,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Counts, senior enlisted advisor, 503rd MP Bn., 16th MP Bde.

Jones agreed.

“Most leaders aren’t present for the SHARP training, so many people don’t take it seriously, signing the roster and then leaving,” said Jones.

Adding that it was from witnessing such training in her new unit that she decided she wanted to share her experience and provide training for her peers in ways that perhaps other prevention educators couldn’t — as a victim herself.

“As a victim, if I don’t think you care about it, why would I go to you for help? I wouldn’t,” said Jones.

Having the right person teaching the prevention message can make all the difference.

“(It must be) someone who the Soldiers feel like they can talk to, that they can trust, somebody who is not afraid to advocate for a Soldier or victim … no matter what,” said Jones.

“The wrong person would be someone who just doesn’t care,” said Moir. “You know, that person in the formation who is making those jokes and always talking down to other Soldiers, is generally disrespectful in nature towards one gender or another, and who outwardly shows disrespect for everything that the program stands for.”

It is not only the commander or SHARP’s duty to educate the force and enforce the policy.

“It’s important that we get the word down to the junior level, because that is where a whole lot of things happen that (senior leaders) don’t hear about,” said McRee. “We, as a group, need to be intolerant of that type of behavior — we can’t chalk it up to ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘girls will be girls,’ he said.”

“This is an important for everyone. Even if you think that you’ll never assault someone — you might be able to help someone else out who does get victimized. Or you could be victimized or it could be your Soldier, friend, Family or random person,” said Jones.

“Our troops take care of each other on the battlefield better than any military unit in the world,” said Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director, Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, in a DoD May press release.

“Now we must extend that same ethos of care to combatting sexual assault. Based on long-standing traditions of excellence and leadership, I am confident in our ability to eliminate sexual assault from our military environment,” Patton said.

Fort Bragg needs to get in front of this, providing positive examples and zero tolerance towards sexual violence said McRee.

“Eventually these (perpetrators) will remove themselves from our ranks, because they will find that they have no home here and there is no room for that kind of behavior. We (are building) a culture that works that way, and when we have a punishment or an investigation, we won’t question what has to be done and that’s really (the place that we as an organization) need to get to.”

“In terms of coordination and communication here at Fort Bragg, I think we are a flagship of pushing forward,” said Naradzay. “We are all very committed and passionate about this new stance on sexual assault prevention and the promotion of a shift in culture.”