Shabren Kurtz-Russ wanted to join the military to start a family tradition. Her mother and father served in the Army. And now she sought to enlist in the Army National Guard.
She would follow classmates into the service. She considered active duty, too. The military offered an exciting future -- plus college money.
She spoke to her mother, Sherry Kurtz, about the plan last year. That's when a dark family secret, only hinted at earlier, was revealed: Her mother told her she was gang-raped in the Army in 1985.
Worse, the military stonewalled her mother's effort to seek criminal charges, Kurtz alleges. Traumatized and betrayed, Kurtz had left the Army.
Her daughter was horrified.
"It was just like unbelievable, and I was disgusted," Kurtz-Russ said. "I didn't really know too much about what she went through. I understand why her and my dad said absolutely not (to her enlisting)."
Kurtz-Russ, now 20, won't be joining the armed forces, she said. Ever.
Her mother, now 46 and living in Ohio, is relieved.
"There's no way," Kurtz said of her reaction to her daughter's desire to enlist. She had just self-published a book about her experience. "I just told her that history has a way of repeating itself, and I wasn't going to let history repeat itself on her."
Their mother-daughter exchange is among the more extreme -- but not necessarily uncommon -- kind of conversation unfolding between parents and their children this high school graduation season.
'A crisis and cancer'
The heartfelt talks -- which have a profound impact on military recruitment -- are amplified by how Congress and the Pentagon grapple with a growing crisis surrounding revelations of rape and sexual harassment in the armed forces. Equally disturbing is how so few of the crimes are even reported in the military, according to recent statistics.
Even one of America's most prominent POWs and advocates for women in the military, Sen. John McCain, expressed deep reservations about enlistment in a recent conversation with a parent.
"Just last night a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not," McCain said earlier this month during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on military sexual assaults. "I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over the continued reports of sexual misconduct in our military."
McCain agreed with testimony about how sex offenses are "a crisis and cancer that threatens the fabric of our military."
The latest Pentagon estimates indicate a 37 percent increase in sexual assaults to 26,000 cases last year. Only 9.8 percent of those were reported, with the bigger picture being obtained through a confidential survey sent to serving troops. There were 238 convictions overall, the Pentagon said.
Those figures come as one proposed law would reform military justice by removing prosecution of sex offenses from the chain of command and giving it to experienced military prosecutors, as Britain, Canada, Israel, Germany and Australia now do, according to a spokesman for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.
Women make up almost 15 percent of the about 1.4 million enlistees, officers, cadets and midshipmen in the military, according to Department of Defense figures.
In the past 10 years, the number of women in the military has fluctuated around the 200,000 mark, down from the high of 215,156 in 2004.
Pentagon leaders and their 13,800 recruiters have made tackling the issue of sexual assault a priority in their efforts to enlist 280,000 young men and women annually for active and reserve forces, said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.
"The leadership of this department has no higher priority than the safety and welfare of our men and women in uniform, and that includes ensuring they are free from the threat of sexual harassment and sexual assault," Christensen said. "Leaders at every level in this institution will be held accountable for preventing and responding to sexual assault in their ranks and under their commands."
But advocates of rape victims are skeptical.
Military sexual trauma -- the term for rape as well as sexual assault and harassment -- goes unreported because victims must report the offense to their commanders, not an independent prosecutor, and victims fear losing their jobs or reputation, the advocates say.
While the Pentagon says rape prevention is a policy priority, Shelby Quast, senior policy adviser for Equality Now, an international human rights group that focuses on girls and women, questions whether that happens in practice.
"Unfortunately there's a lot of things out there" in the world regarding abuses against women, Quast said, "and I can't say it's the worst, but it's just a terrible betrayal. You signed up to say I'm willing to fight and willing to die but you didn't agree to be raped by your fellow soldiers.