THE INVISIBLE WAR (2011)
Running Time: 93 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Director: Kirby Dick
Rape is unfortunately common enough when soldiers occupy a foreign nation or defeat hostile people of a different clan or tribe. A Bible teacher once told a friend that in ancient times, rape was a normal by-product of war that was expected by the victimized population as, after all, soldiers “are tired and tense and rape provides a relief.” More recently we hear about the Rape of Nanking and countless other atrocities of this nature administered by conquering forces against their enemies.
THE INVISIBLE WAR is one of those films that show men in a bad light vis-à-vis women but specifically within our own armed forces: tens of thousands are guilty of rape: not the violation of conquered people such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan which is hopefully rare, but aggression against our own female and some male members by their “brothers” in the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. With allies like these uniformed perps against their own people, who needs enemies?
Kirby Dick’s explosive documentary was seen recently by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who immediately removed the authority of victims’ commanding officers to prosecute cases of rape. Why so? Because in some cases the very same commanding officers had exercised their superior positions to assault the people they were leading; in some instances these officers were friends of the accused; and for the most part, they don’t want to hear about problems in their units because mere accusations target their own incompetence in providing discipline.
THE INVISIBLE WAR, which won awards at the Sundance Festival, at the Dallas International Film Festival, at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and by judges for the Nestor Almendros Award for Courage in Filmmaking, allows several brave women and a couple of men to come forward with their stories, tales that in many cases have been stonewalled by their superiors in the Armed Forces but given a more satisfactory audience before congressional committees.
We can hardly expect a Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock directorial attitude since rape is hardly an entertaining topic, so despite the testimony of victims, you cannot expect this to be a fun documentary. Instead writer-director Kirby Dick utilizes women largely as talking heads while providing variety by setting the women inside their own homes and at congressional hearings. What these women bring out, often amid teary testimony to Thaddeus Waddleigh and Kirsten Johnson’s crystal-clear lenses, comes across as incontrovertible evidence that everything they say is true, though some women’s experiences are so shocking that they stand out as almost beyond belief.
One woman had her jaw broken. Amazingly, her petition for Veterans’ benefits to cover the treatment of this painful, disfiguring attack was denied because, in the words of the court, “rape is an occupational hazard of military service.” We see the statistic that a woman is more likely to be raped by a fellow in her unit than shot dead by the enemy. The women correctly see a vast injustice: if they had been able to take their case to a civilian justice system they would far more likely be compensated and the attackers imprisoned since a civilian judge and jury would not be friends of the accused.
Since there are more men in the armed forces than women, it would be perfectly rational to believe that numerically, men are victims of rapists more than women, but that’s another story. Some of the statistics that emerge are that eighty percent of victims do not report the assaults, knowing that few will be prosecuted and, what’s more, many have been threatened with discharge from the military or even murder by the assailants and their buddies. In 2011 officials received 3,192 sexual assault reports but only 191 military members were convicted at a court martial; and those found guilty often are let off with sentences as low as sixty days in the brig or fewer. Thirty-nine percent of homeless women veterans screened positive for Military Sexual Trauma in 2010. In 2011, the Veterans Administration spent nine hundred million dollars on sexual assault-related healthcare expenditures.
Kudos to Kirby Dick for making what is surprisingly the first doc about this fratricidal horror. He is in his element, having directed such works as OUTRAGE, an indictment of closeted gay politicians who lobby for anti-gay legislation; THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, about the movie ratings board; and TWIST OF FAITH, about a man’s shattering of relationships with his family and community after testifying about sexual abuse by a priest. If you’re a man watching THE INVISIBLE WAR in mixed company, you might be tempted to hide under your seat when the lights come back on.
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