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FDL Movie Night: The Invisible War

The most chilling phrase in The Invisible War, Kirby Dick’s documentary about the ongoing, institutionalized, taxpayer-funded rape of military service people by fellow members of the military, appears onscreen at the film’s beginning:

All statistics in this film are from U.S. governments studies.

With over 20% of all women in the military reporting they had been sexually assaulted, and over 86% of rapes going unreported, it is beyond mindboggling, horrifying or reprehensible that the US Government is aware of these crimes and yet has allowed them to continue by fostering a climate for decades where the majority of perpetrators are not prosecuted or significantly punished, and the victims are left with their lives destroyed. Equally as horrifying: Rape of military service men and women by their fellows is legally considered to be an

occupational hazard

according to the courts which dismissed a lawsuit by military servicewomen who had been sexually assaulted. These women’s stories, along with those of servicemen who were raped, provide a horrific insight into the endemic, abusive, violent, predatory mature of military rapists on US soil, from isolated bases in Alaska to the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington D.C.

No one volunteers for rape, yet that is the reality, with a culture that values machismo and power and a chain of command structure that, until recently, left victims having to report the crime to their attackers or commanders, who for their own reasons often dismissed or played down the crimes. (After watching The Invisible War in April 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta changed the regulations so that sexual assault is no longer reported to commanding officers, a policy in line with that of our closest NATO allies).

As of 2012, less than five percent of sexual assaults in the military were put forth for prosecution, and of those, less than one third of those cases resulted in imprisonment. Instead, the rapists are promoted through ranks, while their victims are left to cope with traumatic physical and mental damage. And hideous damage it is, as the victims’ stories, told by them on camera to producer Amy Ziering, unfold. Harassment and stalking escalate to beatings and rape; druggings and rape during training, repeated rape are standard. Rape kits and other evidence are lost or misplaced, cases closed; and the victims are charged with adultery or conduct unbecoming, and threatened with loss of rank or assignment when they bring charges against their assailants.

Homelessness, suicide, PTSD are the after-effects, yet again, the rapists move forward with their careers, while the victims are left behind, discarded by the their country’s failure to protect them. And the victims are left knowing that the perpetrators are free to continue their assaults on base and when they return to their communities. The way the system is set up there is no recourse for victims, and minimal, if any, consequences for the perpetrators. In fact, says Army criminal investigator Sgt. Myla Haider, the military’s system is designed principally

to help women get raped better.

And when the solution  offered by the bureaucrats in charge is that victims can call their congressperson if they feel they cannot get justice on base, the mind reels. That, and the risible public service announcement suggesting that unless a woman walks with a buddy she is to blame if assaulted on base serve only to insult and further degrade the victims of military sexual assault—many of whom are from families where their husbands, brothers and fathers have served.

Both Susan Brownmiller in Against Our Will and Eldridge Cleaver in Soul On Ice wrote that rape was a crime of power and control, and power and control are at the foundation of the United States military’s culture. While these traits may be virtues on the battlefield, they are perverted when used as sub rosa justifications to violate and destroy military personnel through the heinous crime of sexual assault and rape. In order to have a military that functions, sexual assault needs be rigorously addressed and prosecuted.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.