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Flicks - The Invisible War
The Invisible War 12/07/19 3:19
Flicks - The Invisible War
A powerful documentary exposes the indifference of the military establishment to a decades-long epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the armed forces. You may have heard that there is a problem—a severe, persistent problem—of rape and sexual assault in the military. You may have heard of the Tailhook scandal, in which more than 80 servicewomen were forced to run a gauntlet of drunken groping sailors and Marines at a navy event in Las Vegas in 1991. You may have heard of numerous later scandals, similar to that one, but it's one thing to hear about all this, and to be aware in some way that there's a serious issue, and it's another thing to watch a documentary film make the issue devastatingly clear, urgent, and personal. The film is called The Invisible War, the latest from director Kirby Dick, originally from Tucson, who in the last decade has become one of the most important documentary filmmakers today.
The movie provides plenty of statistics, all from official government sources, such as the fact that 20% of women veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving (adding up to about a half a million women), or that an estimated 15% of male recruits have attempted or committed rape before entering service. But the power of the film is in the personal stories of women, and a few men, who have been victims of rape in the military. And the real scandal, believe it or not, is not so much the rapes themselves, but the lack of consequences for them. In the vast majority of cases, senior officers refused to charge the rapists with a crime, and instead retaliated against the victims, questioning their stories, claiming that they were responsible for what happened through negligence, and even prosecuting them for adultery or indecent behavior.
We meet one Coast Guard veteran whose jaw and facial bones were shattered by her rapist. Her attempts to seek protection were denied, and she finally had to leave the service. Now the VA denies coverage for her injuries because she left two months early. After five years, she still can only eat soft foods. In most cases, the victims were raped by superior officers, and the person they were to report a complaint to was very often a friend of the rapist, or even the rapist himself. There is no independent police authority—the chain of command has complete power as to what happens, or doesn't happen, and in most cases officers would rather sweep everything under the rug than risk being blamed for failure to adequately command their units. One woman who served in the Air Force in Alaska tells how the military police were the ones raping her—there was no one she could turn to, and they were listening to all outgoing phone calls as well.
The cumulative effect of the testimonies in the film is one of horror and outrage. Women who wanted to serve their country, who loved the military, experienced an unimaginable betrayal. And this has been going on for many decades—the feeble attempts to deal with it, as shown in the film, are on the level of showing training films that tell women to be careful and not to go out alone. The military has dealt with criminal behavior as if it were just a normal hazard of the job, while at the same implicitly blaming the victims.
Kirby Dick's powerful and uncompromising film should be required viewing for the top brass at the Pentagon. Reportedly the current Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, has seen it and is vowing to take action. But the struggle continues.