The American military’s most shameful secret is that a female serving in Iraq or Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.
According to Department of Defense statistics, there were 22,800 violent sexual assaults in the armed forces in 2011. While it’s estimated that 20% of female veterans were victimized while serving, few reported attacks, perhaps because prosecution rates for sexual predators are astoundingly low – with only a tiny fraction of court-martial convictions because heinous crimes like this are covered up by high-ranking commanders. Remember how the Tailhook, Aberdeen and Air Force Academy scandals were swept aside?
Filmmakers Kirby Dick (“This Film is Not Yet Rated,” “Twist of Faith”) and Amy Zierling (“Outrage,” “Derrida”) delve into this disgraceful dilemma, focusing on proud, brave, once idealistic servicewomen who were betrayed by their comrades, like veteran Kori Cioca, whose jaw was broken when she was beaten and raped by her Coast Guard supervisor; Lee Le Teff, Teah Bedney and Valine Demons from the Army; Tia Christopher, Hannah Sewell and Trina McDonald from the Navy; Ariana Klay and Elle Helmer from the Marine Corps. Plus there’s gay Michael Matthews, who was gang-raped by Air Force cohorts. All have suffered depression, PTSD and some even attempted suicide.
According to the film-makers’ investigations, most victims just “suck it up,” often because the person to whom they’d report a rape was the predator himself. Not unlike the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the male-dominated military emerges as an insular, misogynist organization, refusing to investigate transgressions by its own members.
According to Zierling, rape in the military is devastating: “If you’re a civilian, you can seek comfort and support from friends and family and recourse through the criminal justice system. In the military, you don’t have these options.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Invisible War” is an agonizing, infuriating yet effective 8. Earlier this year, after viewing this documentary, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta took the decision to prosecute away from military commanders.