“The standard U.S. military approach to sexual assault is designed “to help women get raped better,” Army criminal investigator Sgt. Myla Haider says in the movie.” Washington Post, June 21, 2012
Though I had escaped it for the better part of a year, time ran out last night on my active efforts to avoid having to see The Invisible War about the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the US military. As an avid fan of documentaries and having spent years publicizing them for work, I had followed the film’s rapid ascension in the social conscious of the film festival circuit, right up to its 2012 Oscar Nomination. I knew it was the kind of film that leaves you feeling outraged and helpless and defeated. I try to avoid those feelings most days.
If I hadn’t already been entrenched – most intensely – in the anti-sexual violence movement, perhaps I’d have sought the chance to see the film. But so much of my learnings on this crime and in my training cause warring feelings within me. Some days I feel like my efforts count for something. That they possibly make a dent in the crime and all the millions of people who don’t even understand the nature of it and why victims deserve their support. Many days, I feel overwhelmed by the attempt by so many of us to UNWIND the twisted beliefs surrounding sexual assault and the resistance we encounter doing it.
But last night, my luck ran out and I watched The Invisible War. Let me preface this by saying I love my country. I love our armed forces and what they do for us every day. I am so, so proud to be an American. I know the MAJORITY of military personnel are good, honorable people. And that’s why it pains me to say I would never encourage a female to join its ranks until the system is OVERHAULED in a way that ensures rapists have no place to hide inside of it. My takeaways:
- Rent the film. If you’ll watch Supersize Me, An Inconvenient Truth and other films that make you feel socially aware, then watch this film.
- The key takeaway: Rape and sexual assault is rampant in the military and all our elected officials can do is posture, make statements that they “have zero tolerance” and promise to improve the system in the smallest of microsteps.
- Servicewomen who are raped by their fellow servicemen – if those servicemen are married – wind up being charged with adultery (!!!!). Yes, the military is that insulting to victims.
- Worse yet, rapists in the military move unfettered through the ranks, from base to base, and with little to no consequence whatsoever. Let me type that again: Rapists thrive in the military environment because the system of military justice lets them. Victims are expected to report being raped within the chain of command often times to commanders who either raped them, know and are friends with their rapists or who don’t want to look bad to their commanders that a rape took place on their watch. Victims have nowhere else to go (until very, very recently, and only because Department of Defense honcho Leon Panetta saw this film). The commander is judge, jury, prosecutor and investigator. And the numbers show they cannot be trusted with doing right by victims.
- The treatment of our servicewomen who are raped is terrifying in its implications for what the US Government/DoD will allow to happen to our daughters, sisters and mothers – to our fellow citizens – we ask to protect us. I guarantee it will appaul you.
- I find it IRONIC that the common theme of violence and grave physical assault that accompanies rape in the military – at least for the film’s featured victims who suffered injuries such as a dislocated jaw, dislocated hips and other impact injuries – is the kind of rape that is statistically rare and yet so many juries in the CIVILIAN world prefer to see in order to be convinced a rape took place. And what I mean by that is if these victims were trying their cases in the civilian courts, they’d stand a better (albeit not great) chance of conviction than in the US Military Judicial System. As it has stood for decades and still stands now, the military is where rapists can brutalize their victims leave marks, break their bodies – and walk scott free. In fact, they get promoted to other ranks and posts.
- Fifteen percent of recruits entering the military have attempted or committed rape. That is twice the rate than in their non-military peer group. So, rapists seek out the closed system that is the military.
- And here is more statistical revelation packaged in the awesomeness that is Congresswoman Gillibrand’s blistering takedown of a military official trying to justify why of almost 20,000 assaults, less than 250 perps received any kind of discipline.
- Rapists are emboldened by successfully completing rapes; they rape dozens and dozens of people in their lifetime and never get caught. In the military, they grow more dangerous and more acute in their crime. And then, they complete their service and are released into civilian society.
- Rent the film. Rent it because you need to hear from the victims. They deserve your attention and your outrage. And we all deserve to understand exactly what is taking place behind military walls when the military asks us to entrust them with our sons and daughters.