The Invisible War unveils horror of rape in U.S. military
Every year, men and women enter the U.S. military, hoping to serve and protect their country. Their dreams are shattered when they encounter the nightmare of rape.
In the U.S. military, 20 percent of women who enter to serve are victims of sexual assault. The Department of Defense has reported an estimate of 19,000 violent sex crimes in the military in 2010.
Since 1991, at least 200,000 men and women have been raped. But the real number is expected to be far larger, as the majority of rape cases go unreported.
Renowned director Kirby Dick focuses on a subject matter that has been the “invisible” black eye in the U.S. military from over 70 years in his unflinching latest documentary, The Invisible War, to be shown at the Vancouver International Film Festival. The Vancouver Observer is a media sponsor of this powerful film at VIFF.
A prolific documentary filmmaker, Dick says this has been a subject long overlooked by themedia.
"I mean, this is my tenth feature documentary. And I really have never seen an entire subject that could be less known and less understood [than this]," director Kirby Dick said in a phone interview from California.
In The Invisible War, courageous former military men and women denounce the horrifying sexual attacks they’ve endured while in service. They talk of pleas for justice that have been “swept under the rug” by the military justice system, revealing a web of corruption that silences rape in the U.S. military.
Rape in the military: shattered dreams
The film, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2012, won the Audience Award this year. It came out of Dick's intent to expose the issue after hearing of the alarming numbers and the pandemic case of violent sex acts occurring within the US military.
Over 100 female and male victims appeared participated in the documentary, but only 50 appear in front of the camera. Many victims of rape in the U.S. military suffer from agoraphobia and extreme PDST, because Dick puts it, “every time they spoke out, the military turns on them”.
The brave film includes also researchers, victims advocates and therapists as well as former members of the U.S. Armed Forces, current officials, politicians and experts.
“We talked to many men and women -- more women than men -- because men are even less likely to talk about this, and they feel more shame," Dick said.
"It’s psychologically even more devastating for men the experience of being sexually assaulted in the military units.”
The rapes have profoundly marked the survivors, who often have severe cases of depression and high rate of suicide attempts.
“These are men and women who wanted to serve in the military, wanted to serve their country. They have many family members in the military going on all the way back to the Revolutionary war," Dick explained.
"They were choosing this career -- and most of these men and women (rape victims) had to leave the military. It’s psychology. Nearly every person we talked to either attempted, considered committing suicide or attempted suicide.”
Only 14 percent of rapes had been reported because the military authority hasn’t taken these cases seriously or because survivors fear reprisal. In the documentary, a former servicewoman , victim of rape recounts being accused of adultery even though she was single. The perpetrator was married.
Repeat offenders of sexual assault
For Dick, the problem of rape is not confined to the army ranks.
“The Department of Defense itself did not deem as important to try to solve this problem. Most rapes in the civilian world and in the military are committed by serial perpetrators," he said.
"These are men...who assault again and again. [It happens] in such way that even if the victim comes forward and report they can make their claims that it was consensual and these are people who do this again and again and the military, and even now, they haven’t really taken the stand into taking against the assailants,” Dick said.
The challenge for rape victims in the army is that complaints often fall on deaf ears, and consequences for rapists are minimized. From 3223 of cases that were prosecuted in the military, a mere 175 resulted in actual incarceration.
The rampant denial within the military forces and their ineffective campaigns of assault prevention (which are targeted more on the victim than on the perpetrators) and the Pentagon has also prevented to bring the offenders to justice.
The film also shows Attorney Susan Burke and 18 survivors who took the case of rape while in duty last year, claiming that their Constitutional rights were violated. The court ruled it out, saying the rapes in the military were an "occupational hazard". Differing interpretations of the law prevents the military to be sued outside their own justice system.
“Many people feel that was the incorrect interpretation, but it hasn’t been revisited since the 1950’s,” Dick said.
As for contacting the perpretators, Dick explained that considered doing so, but he and his crew didn't want to focus on the eight perpetrators who assaulted the subjects because they didn't want the audience to think they were "the central concern."
"Our concern was not those individuals but the systemic problem. To that end, the individuals we wanted the film to put pressure on were those eight or so men who had the power to change the systemic problem: the President, Secretary of Defense, and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Creating change in the military culture
The film seems to have made urgent in the military the need for change and revise their policy.
Two days before the film's screening at Sundance, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in a press conference that small amendments would be made to help the military deal with rape.
Dick said that Panetta had know about the film for a long time, and finally saw it in April. He told one of the executives producers that he was moved by the film, and that it left a great impact on him.”
Today, the film is shown as a part of the Sexual Assault Prevention for military training.
Aside from raising about rape within the U.S. military, Dick hopes his film will reach people around the world and encourage more people to look at their own situation, including that of the Canadian military.
“I think this is a problem probably in all militaries round the world, in greater or lesser extent whether or not there are women serving and then, in fact is one of the things we hope to do so and help that not only open the discussion in the US, [...]but also help to encourage discussion around the world.
The Invisible War will be screening on Sept 28 at Granville 1 at 9:15 p.m and Sept 29 at Granville 1 at 11:45 a.m. The director will be in attendence .