Exposing the Invisible War

I’m trying to see all the available Oscar-nominated documentaries this week. I’ll watch all of them except The Gatekeepers, which doesn’t seem to have a DVD a streaming release date yet. I started off this little mini-film festival with Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War.

In what world is rape considered an occupational hazard? Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re considering a career in the United States military, then that’s a risk you’re taking. The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated), focuses on the epidemic of rape and sexual assault taking place in every branch of America’s armed forces. The statistics are unbelievably shocking. Consider two of them on the film’s website: a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire, and the Department of Defense estimates that there were 19,000 violent sex crimes in the military in 2010.

The film focuses on a handful of rape victims in each branch of service as they try to bring their abusers to justice. This is all the more difficult because, unlike raped civilians, they have no unbiased legal recourse. That is to say, more often than not, the rapist is either the superior officer or a friend of the superior officer to whom the victim must report the crime. Consider the ways in which such a “rigged” system might keep many victims from reporting, and the potential counts of violent sexual crimes soar. If women (and men) do have the courage to report being sexually assaulted, then they are often accused of bringing it on themselves or encouraging this type of behavior on the part of their peers.

Yet this is not just a military problem. The ways in which the leaders of our armed forces fail to appropriately handle the cases place civilians in harm’s way as well. Because these cases aren’t properly tried or since the violators often simply get a slap on the wrist, they are not put on any national sex offender registry (nor does the military keep its own). That rapists are often serial offenders (one talking head estimated that repeated sex offenders average 300 victims), the damaging wake they leave behind is almost unfathomable.

Lest you begin to think that this is some anti-military, anti-American, leftist hack job…well, it’s not. The filmmakers convey these men and women’s sincere desire to serve our country, often following in the footsteps of family members who also served and encouraged them to do so. One of the most difficult interviews is with an army man who encouraged his daughter to enlist because he knew they would “take care of her.” Their service and willingness to sacrifice have been thrown on a trash heap and their lives irreparably broken, and the film reveals the toll (physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual) that their suffering takes on not only their own lives, but those that love and support them as well.

The Invisible War has already brought about a small change in military procedure, but, as the filmmakers assert, it is not enough. The film and accompanying website includes information on how viewers can gain more information and take action. This is the type of prophetic documentary filmmaking that can change attitudes and policy.

The Invisible War (93 mins.) is available on DVD and streaming on demand through a variety of networks.