It won the prestigious Audience Award at Sundance 2012 and is currently in the running for an equally appreciated IDA award; this flawless investigation by Oscar and Emmy nominated director Kirby Dick reveals that some servicemen who are working to prevent evil acts of terrorism from reaching American soil, are in fact themselves guilty of accomplishing acts that are equally as brutal, and on their own comrades….
The Invisible War is a shocking ordeal which – in a very tasteful and respectful manner – reveals a secret rape culture in the US Military, where sexual assault on female service personnel is deemed an ‘occupational hazard’ and ‘unavoidable.’
Department of Defense official figures show that 22,800 rapes occurred last year in various branches of the Armed Services. Only 3,000 were reported and of those, less than 200 resulted in conviction. These government statistics, combined with emotional testimonies from the victims themselves, help build the case for a broken military – a camaraderie that is meant to be based on loyalty and justice portrayed as a terrifying institution that silences victims and sweeps accusations under the rug.
What makes The Invisible War possible are the numerous, often candid, testimonies from the victims. Kori Cioca, who served in the US Coast Guard, was raped by her commanding officer and had her jaw broken during the act. She is now fighting the Veterans Administration who continuously denies her of compensation and health benefits.
Ariana Klay, a former Lieutenant in the elite Washington Barracks’ Marine Corps, was raped as a result of her ‘provocative attire’ (her Marine Corps issued knee-length skirt) and was threatened with death if she reported her assault. Trina Macdonald, the only woman on the Alaskan Naval base where she was stationed, was raped repeatedly over the course of her deployment. She would call her father crying, telling him she wanted to leave, but couldn’t reveal why because her phone calls were being monitored by her rapists. Hannah Sewell comes from a family of long-standing military service. Her father holds a high ranking in the Army. She was a virgin when she was raped. And they are not alone.
The sheer number of women willing to speak on camera about their traumatizing experiences serving their country is astonishing. One by one, each woman relives her pain, revealing truly horrifying traumas equal, if not worse, than those experienced on the battlefield. And it’s not just women – 10 per cent of sexual assaults are on men. In fact, what is quite good is that the film avoids demonizing men as a gender. It features interviews with military fathers and husbands who literally break down, unable to speak of the horrors suffered by their loved ones.
The film also provides a platform for government spokespeople to respond. Their answers are simultaneously shocking and predictable. Governments often skirt around issues, but in this case, the filmmakers are met with unreserved denial. In one interview, Kaye Whitley, the former director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, describes the government’s prevention tactics; that is, victim-blaming posters that promote the ‘buddy system.’ The editors got it right by leaving in questions to which Whitley responds with stutters, incomprehensible rambling, and in some cases silence. The new director of the office, who was replaced just before the release of The Invisible War, is featured as well. More confident in her answers, Air Force Major General Mary Kay Hertog rustles up attempts at defending the ‘success’ of SAPRO’s prevention programmes – but her arguments don’t carry as much weight in light of those we have just witnessed.
In order to fight the enemy abroad, women (and some men) in the Armed Services have to first face the enemy at home. It is an irony that is not lost on the viewer. One of those viewers, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, was presumably so worried about the potential implications of the film that he reformed routine military practice in order to allow victims to report their assaults to an authority outside their unit. That, in itself, makes the documentary a success. But there is a lot more that needs to be done – and it starts with spreading the word about this film.
The Invisible War will soon be released on DVD in the US and according to the Guardian, who wrote about the film after it had its first screening at the Frontline Club at the end of October, more screenings of The Invisible War in the UK are currently in the pipeline, as is its release on iTunes in the UK. At the same time, the filmmakers are urging UK viewers to host their own screenings in community centres, local pubs, meeting places and universities for example, just to get this all important warning sign out there, to break taboos and to open up the debate…