By Heather Martin
The Invisible War: Debunking Rape as “Occupational Hazard” for Women in the U.S. Military
Created through collaboration between Emmy-nominated Producer Amy Ziering and Director Kirby Dick, The Invisible War is much more than a documentary about rape in the military. It is a trailblazing investigation into the epidemic of rape in the United States Military, the first of its kind to ever delve into the breadth of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and its intricate effect on victims.
The journey began when Dick and Ziering read a 2007 Salon.com article about women serving in Iraq entitled “The Private War of Women Soldiers,” by Columbia University journalism Professor Helen Benedict. They were shocked by the statistics.
“We were extremely surprised by the extent of the problem, how psychologically damaging it was, and the extent of the cover-up,” Dick says.
On their website NotInvisible.org it can best be summarized with this appalling statement: “Today, a female soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is more likely to be raped than killed or injured by enemy fire. Every day American service women and men, who have pledged their lives to protect our country, are being raped and sexually assaulted. Not by the enemy, but by their fellow soldiers, commanders, and officers – by the people whose job it is to protect them”.
The Department of Defense hides behind a “Zero Tolerance Policy,” however the dirty little secret is that the majority of cases often result in no punishment for the accused, that in certain cases the Commanding Officer is also the perpetrator, and that women who come forward are accused of lying or even asking for the sexual assault through their clothing or behavior.
NotInvisible.org also highlights an enormous part of the problem through the following statistics:
• Since 2006, more than 95,000 service members have been sexually assaulted in the U.S. military
• More than 86% of service members do not report their assault
• Less than five percent of all sexual assaults are put forward for prosecution, and less than a third of those cases result in imprisonment
Allison Gill, a Navy Veteran and MST victim who appeared in the film, tells about her experience of sharing her story: “The main thing that struck me during the course of making and then seeing this film is that when I was interviewed for the documentary, I came in and told my story without having heard anyone else’s story. Then, when I watched the film for the first time, I was taken aback by how similar, if not exactly the same, our experiences were. I appear in the film during the montage of women talking about barriers to reporting rape in the military, and it was horrifying to hear that so many other women were scoffed at, yet comforting to know that I wasn’t alone. We were all confronted like criminals when we tried to report sexual assault and asked questions such as ‘What were you doing with a married man?’, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’, ‘What were you wearing”, ‘Don’t you think you just made a poor decision?’, and ‘What were you doing drinking with a bunch of guys, anyhow?’ And beyond that, so many women are THREATENED by the people that are supposed to be protecting them, saying things like ‘If you file a false report, you’ll lose rate, you’ll lose rank, you’ll lose school, you could be discharged, etc.’”
Victims of sexual assault in the military have an added layer of trauma when compared with civilian rape victims. “Many are highly traumatized and suffer from shame, agoraphobia and severe debilitating depression,” Ziering says. “There’s much about being raped in the military that’s categorically different from civilian rape,” she explains. “In many ways it can be even more profoundly damaging. If you’re a civilian, you can seek immediate comfort and support from friends and family, you can seek recourse through an impartial criminal justice system, and you are not blamed and castigated if you report. What the public doesn’t realize is that if you are raped in the military, you don’t have these options. Plus, it goes against the creed you’ve been taught—‘A good soldier doesn’t tell on a fellow soldier — good marines suck it up.’ All these things combined have kept so many victims from being able to talk about what happened to them.”
James Maddox, National Service Officer for the Vietnam Veterans of America, was in attendance at the screening of the film on June 16th at the L.A. Film Festival. He supports the film and its greater cause because he is guided by the Vietnam Veterans founding principle that “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” He explains that “the film highlights a problem that we have been hearing about for many years. In our publication by the Veterans Health Council entitled Veterans and Their Families: What Your Health Care Provider Should Know, Military Sexual Trauma is listed for all of the conflicts since Vietnam. In my view, the film The Invisible War put a face on the problems surrounding MST that many people do not know exist. I am encouraging everyone that I know who is a veteran, works with veterans or simply cares about veterans to see the film.”
Maddox also encourages veterans to contact a Veterans Service Organization to help them and he has personally developed a contact list of effective female service officers that he can refer female veterans to. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Overall, The Invisible War makes it crystal clear that Military Sexual Assault is not an isolated incident. MST is an epidemic and a systemic crisis in the United States Military. But we can help to overturn this culture of invisibility through clear actions and a focus on resolutions to this egregious issue:
• Pressure our elected representatives to move the decision to investigate and prosecute these crimes OUTSIDE of the Military chain of command and create an INDEPENDENT body for investigation and prosecution
• Demand that the Department of Defense immediately change policy so that everyone convicted of a sex crime while in the military is listed on the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW)
This film will be released in theatres on Friday, June 22nd, including the Laemmle in Santa Monica , CA. Please support the cause and educate yourself by going to see this film, and “Take Action” at NotInvisible.org.
As Producer Amy Ziering so clearly states: “Military Sexual Assault affects all of us. Service Members are re-integrating into society with severe trauma and this can’t help but impact and ripple through our culture at large. Perpetrators are escaping punishment while serving and then released into our general society with no record of their criminal conduct. What’s more, the unchecked proliferation of these crimes is really a national security issue because it affects troop welfare, readiness and unit cohesion. And what’s so reprehensible is that the military can change this if they are willing to own this issue and take it on with the same determination and seriousness of purpose that they employ to combat our enemies abroad. The military needs to focus on these enemies within to greatly reduce so much needless suffering, and afford our service members the same respect and civil rights that they themselves have pledged their lives to safeguard for the American people.” Pictured from left to right: Producer Amy Ziering, Allison Gill, Heather Martin, Avril Martin.