Recently, I had the privilege of screening a riveting documentary called The Invisible War directed by Kirby Dick, which goes into depth about sexual abuse in the military. The documentary was very powerful but I left the theater feeling absolutely enraged and helpless. Rape is such a horrific act and in my naïve civilian mind, I assumed that the military would have zero tolerance for such behavior. After watching this film, I learned that not only does the military promote a culture of rape, the organization as a whole uses intimidation, threats, and retaliation against survivors who are brave enough to report their assailants. Rape is a major problem in America’s military and the documentary The Invisible War brings this issue to light.
Rape is one of the most vicious crimes known to humanity. Rape violates one’s body and spirit. Rape destroys lives and communities. Rape is about power and leaves the victims in a constant state of fear. Rape is expensive and can negatively affect human capital. A victim of rape can spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses as a result of the physical and psychological trauma. In my earlier blog post “The Politics of Rape and False Accusations,” I expressed my anger towards women who do lie about sexual assault because their actions hurt real victims. People who lie about rape are a very small minority yet their actions have far-reaching consequences for true victims.
Rape is extremely difficult to prosecute because in the minds of general society, rape victims have to meet a certain criteria to receive justice. Instead of putting responsibility solely on the assailant, victims of rape have their lives scrutinize by the people supposed to administer justice. Due the prevailing rape culture in our society, predators are able to get away with their crimes and target certain victims. The military creates an environment where these criminals are able to assault multiple victims and rarely receive appropriate punishment for their crimes.
The film profiled several brave women and a few men who have been victims of rape and sexual abuse while serving their country. Myself and other audience members had a difficult time staying composed because what happened to these women after their assault was infuriating. These brave women who sacrificed so much to serve in the military were systematically targeted for rape. The violation goes even deeper because the people they trusted to have their best interest where often times their assailants or participated in the cover up. Commanders had the power to prosecute a sexual abuse case or dismiss it. Leaving the decision to prosecute in the hands of commanders is a conflict of interest because their performance directly ties into how their units run and sexual abuse cases could ruin one’s military career. This policy created the incentive to hide sexual abuse crimes.
One of the stories that stood out to me the most was of Seaman Kori Cioca who reported her superior for harassment on several occasions only to have her claims dismissed. Eventually the harassment escalated to physical assault and rape. Seaman Kori Cioca also had the disc in her jaw shattered during her assault causing significant nerve damage and was eventually discharged from the military under false pretenses. Now this survivor has to fight the Department of Veteran Affairs just to receive medical treatment for her injuries that occurred while serving. To this date I do not believe she has received benefits from her injuries while serving the military.
There is hope that eventually these women profiled in the film along with thousands of other survivors will receive justice. Susan L. Burke, a prominent civil rights attorney, is helping to bring attention to sexual abuse in the military through civil lawsuits. As a result of The Invisible War, Secretary Panetta issued an order removing deciding power from commanders on whether sexual assault cases in their units will get prosecuted. It’s a small step but not enough to rectify all the injustices that have occurred in the military.
Awareness and public outrage will put pressure on the Department of Defense to change their policies on sexual abuse in their units. The men and woman in the military are serving our country and should not have to worry about falling victim to sexual abuse. Civilians are directly affected by what occurs in the military. The assailants who go unpunished for their crimes often leave the military and enter back into civilian life only to continue their assaults on unsuspecting victims. To help spread awareness, please go see “The Invisible War” and urge your friends and family to also support the film. To take it a step further, blog, write your representatives, make videos, and do whatever you can to share what you learned about this issue. Social Media is a very powerful tool that can bring forth justice.
- ‘Invisible War’ Documentary Examines Military Sexual Assault – And The Cover-Up (thinkprogress.org)
- For Some Who Served, an Awful Betrayal of Trust (movies.nytimes.com)
- Why rapists in military get away with it (cnn.com)
- The Invisible War: When Soldiers Rape Soldiers (entertainment.time.com)