Military victims of sexual abuse
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, June 22, 2012
With “The Invisible War,” filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering lift the veil on what they contend is one of the U.S. military’s dirtiest secrets -- an epidemic of rape and sexual violence that is ignored by top brass.
That’s the takeaway from this riveting, heartbreaking and infuriating film, in which a core group of courageous women (and a few men) give voice to the hundreds of thousands who have suffered and survived harassment, vicious attacks and lifelong trauma in every service branch. (Twenty percent of active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted while serving, according to the Defense Department; in 2010 more than 3,000 sex crimes were committed in the military.)
With clinical detail and inescapable logic, “The Invisible War” -- which won the audience award at Sundance this year -- builds the case that the military has systematically ignored or even punished victims of sexual violence in its ranks, circling the wagons around abusers who are statistically overrepresented in a culture drenched in machismo and aggression.
What’s more, the chain-of-command structure that adjudicates victims’ claims is either populated by the perpetrators themselves or by their enablers, an “accountability” structure that bears a troubling resemblance to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church when dealing with criminal behavior.
To his credit, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta changed elements of that reporting structure this spring after seeing “The Invisible War.” But as the filmmakers note at the end of the film, much more needs to be done -- a contention they bolster repeatedly through the testimony and brave witness of a few representative subjects, including a former Coast Guard member who was brutally raped by a superior but has been repeatedly denied coverage for her injuries by the Veterans Administration.
While Pentagon officials give mealy mouthed justifications and obfuscations for halfhearted policies dealing with sexual violence (one poster campaign urges male soldiers to “wait till she’s sober” to make a pass), woman after woman -- and one man -- relate in graphic detail the horrific attacks they suffered, with no repercussions.
Most galling are the instances recalled by female Marines stationed at Marine Barracks Washington at Eighth and I streets, a prestigious post where several women say they were attacked. Dick, whose films include a revealing expose about the movie industry’s film ratings board, has created yet another galvanizing call to action with “The Invisible War.” For Washington audiences, that action may need to begin right in our own back yard.
Contains adult themes and disturbing material.