I had the pleasure of attending the 36th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival in March, which just so happened to be the first film fest I have attended. Unfortunately, due to a tight weekend schedule, I was only able to attend one film, but the one that I selected was the absolute right choice.
I was fortunate to see Kirby Dick’s troubling documentary, The Invisible War, a study on sexual assaults that take place internally within the armed forces and the cover-ups that ensue. Dick’s previous work includes This Film is Not Yet Rated and Outrage, but none of his previous work compares to this award-worthy investigation on what goes on behind the scenes in the military.
The Invisible War tells the story of multitudes of women (and a sampling of men) who have been raped by other enlisted men and/or officers, and uses statistics based on U.S. Government Studies to present information that is so shocking that it stops nothing short of being downright angering. The film opens by telling us that more than 20% of female veterans have reported sexual assaults, while acknowledging the common belief that 80% of actual rapes go unreported.
One out of every five women enlisted report a sexual assault. Four out of every five that actually take place are never reported.
Let that sink in.
Now you may be wondering, why would 80% of the victims not report a sexual assault? The answer, while infuriating, is simple: When a woman reports a rape in the civilian world, the police and then the judicial system – consisting of a jury of your peers - handle the case. However, in the military, the commanding officer is judge, jury, and executioner. So what do you do when the man you would report the incident to is either buddies with the rapist, or is in fact the rapist himself?
Even in cases where the commanding officer is not friends with (or is himself) the rapist, he still has his command post to worry about. What would it look like for the commanding officer if he had this kind of activity in his unit? It would look as if he did not have command and/or the respect of his unit and so the cases are not only swept under the rug, but are often turned back in the direction of the victim, who is then interrogated until they are pressured into admitting to falsely accusing the criminal. The repercussions of reporting the rape can, and often does, lead into an investigation of the victim, which can then result in a demotion of rank, pay, or even college funding.
The military is often referred to as a Band of Brothers (and Sisters). You are trained to fight, kill, and protect the person’s life that is next to you at all cost. One can only imagine the psychological damage done when a rape occurs. Now visualize what it must be like when someone who you are trained to put your life in his hands, and who is like a brother to you, commits the crime. The damage done to the psyche is unimaginable, and thus the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is often most severe for the veterans who are raped while serving. One of the many things we learn from the brave women interviewed in the film is that they have all had thoughts (or further) of suicide.
One of the victims who was courageous enough to share her story was Kori Cioca (pictured above), a woman who has been on a soft diet (consisting mostly of milkshakes and JELL-O) since her jaw was severely damaged by her rapist. Kori was discharged two months before her tour was completed as a result of her coming forward about the attack, and has therefore been declined the claim she has put in to have her jaw repaired. Kori and a few other women decided to take the military to court for the way they handle these situations, and traveled toWashingtonD.C.- where theWashingtonMonumentstands as a phallic reminder of the men who attacked them – to talk to members of congress. The courts fumbled the ball once again for the victims by moronically declaring that rape was an “occupational hazard for women in the military.”
The audience at my screening had the privilege to follow up the film with a Q&A session with Kori Cioca herself, which both gave more insight and further heartbreak to her situation. Cioca continues to fight and hope for changes to be made to the way women are educated about these horrors when enlisting. Furthermore, she is hoping that they will change the way the military does background checks to better weed out the people more capable of such crimes. She was greeted by two standing ovations for her courageous efforts, as well as to show the support the audience felt for her and her family.
Kirby Dick’s film is a powerful, frightening, and heartbreaking look into the strong, intelligent women that have been made vulnerable by a military that they have dedicated their lives to and a system that has failed to protect them in return. The Invisible War deservingly won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and has a very good chance of being a player during this year’s award season.
Please visit the film’s site - invisiblewarmovie.com - to sign up and help take action by signing the petition supporting military sexual assault survivors, and/or to purchase the film on DVD. I did.