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Local Navy veteran and sexual assault survivor speaks out

A veteran and sexual assault victim says the Gulf Coast is home to many people who endured sexual assaults in the military.  Channel Three's Joe Douglass spoke with one of them here in Pensacola.It's not easy for anyone to talk about this subject, much less someone who's personally experienced the trauma of sexual assault.

Michelle Caldwell, Veteran / Sexual Assault Survivor: "For 20 years I was silent. We can't be silent anymore."
    
Michelle Caldwell served in the Navy from 1985 to 1989.

Michelle Caldwell, Veteran / Sexual Assault Survivor: "I had a gentleman who was in an authority position over the top of me and in that I was actually stalked by him...It was at my home. And I was also in the hospital where I was assaulted by a male nurse."
    
Caldwell says the trauma she experienced took a heavy toll.

Michelle Caldwell, Veteran / Sexual Assault Survivor: "Emotionally it has affected me in relationships absolutely and in just personal relationships, workwise...Probably a lot of people that know me go 'Yep...That's true.'"
    
Caldwell has been helping veterans for years as the founder and chair of the Monument to Women's Veterans Foundation, a group pushing to build a national monument honoring women who've served our country.
    
The organization also provides a wide variety of services to veterans, including help for those who've survived sexual assault.

Michelle Caldwell, Veteran / Sexual Assault Survivor: "This has been going on for too long."
    
Caldwell says the promises for change she's hearing in Washington have been made before, and she has a hard time believing them.

Michelle Caldwell, Veteran / Sexual Assault Survivor: "My nephew has followed in my footsteps and joined the Navy. His sister just graduated high school, and I told her I would not at this point like to see her enter the military because I cannot guarantee she will be protected."
    
Caldwell supports a bill opposed by top military brass that would remove sexual assault prosecutions from the chain of command and prevent commanding officers from deciding which crimes go to trial.

Michelle Caldwell, Veteran / Sexual Assault Survivor: "I am a soldier regardless and as a soldier I'm trained to survive. And I believe that we did and we do have a bunch of women survivors out there and it's time to recognize them and it's time to take care of the problem."

Caldwell also points out that many victims of sexual assault in the military are men, who the Pentagon says made up about 14,000 of the 26,000 victims last year.

For anyone who's dealt with this kind of trauma, we've posted information about how to get help at our website, weartv.com.
Just go there and click on news links.