I previously wrote a post about the prevalence of sexual violence in the military and new legislation that was being proposed to help revolutionize the way that the military handles these cases. The rates of sexual violence is epidemic within the military and it is estimated that 1 in 3 women are assaulted during their time in the service. The DoD estimates that over 19,000 service members (male and female) are assaulted each year, however there were only 3,158 reports in 2010. That leaves many service members without the aid and assistance that they need and leaves many perpetrators unpunished and able to assault again.
A new documentary, The Invisible War, examines the epidemic of rape within the military and recently premiered at the Sundance Festival. The film was written and directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering. It gained a lot of media attention prior to the festival and was one of the films that many people were eager to see. Its screening was attended by several members of Congress, including Rep Jackie Speire, who is one of the sponsors for new legislation dealing with military sexual assault. It was also a contender for several Sundance awards and won the Audience Award.
Dick and Ziering interview several survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) and military officials in order to show how rape affects not just the survivor but the entire command. It also shows how the attitudes of a unit or command and the officers within it can affect whether someone feels secure in reporting a sexual assault. A 2009 study demonstrated that only about 8% of offenders are prosecuted. One reason for this, that the film explores, is that, despite the amount of corroborating evidence, the commanding officers can override the JAG prosecutors to bring a case to court. The new legislation sponsored by Rep Speier, and several others, will prohibit the commanding officers from making these decisions.
It is possible to break the silence surrounding military sexual assault but it is going to take a lot of work. Survivors need to feel safer and more supported in order to come forward and file a report. Better, comprehensive, and more uniform services need to be offered at all bases and installations so that survivors are able to access whatever help they need. However, it is equally important to focus on the prevention aspect rather than just the response side. Commanding officers need to promote a climate that is intolerant of types of sexually inappropriate and violent behaviors. These behaviors can range from jokes and signs to harassment to sexual assault and rape. Our military should be intolerant of any behavior that makes people feel unsafe and unwelcome. COs need to serve as a role model for the enlisted and view both the overarching climate and the available response model as important and necessary to and appropriate as important and necessary.
Many people, both military and civilian, were not aware of the vastness of this problem . This film serves as a great educator and tool to increase awareness. The changes that need to be made will require a lot of work and support from individuals and organizations both within and outside of the military community. The Invisible War is a great step that both exposes many of the problems that exist within the military culture and opens the opportunity to discuss possible solutions. It is the one of the only films that that examines rape and sexual assault within the military and gives survivors an opportunity to speak out about the injustices that happened to them while trying to serve their country.
The Invisible War is opening across the country in June and July. Check out their website to see where it is screening near you!! If you’re in the Boston area, it will be at the Coolidge Corner Theatre from July 6 to July 12. Learn more about this important issue by attending a screening and starting the conversation with people you know.
WRITTEN BY: Stacey