As a documentary, “The Invisible War” is spare. There is no voice over, no omnipresent narrator summarizing the action and guiding viewers to a conclusion. Just people speaking to a camera, going about their lives and telling their stories. Occasionally the film cuts to recorded news footage.
“The Navy appears to be facing a huge sex scandal…” “The Army today is trying to establish the extent of a new and growing sexual harassment scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground…” “Rape and other sexual abuse at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs…”
It’s been clear at least since 1991 that the U.S. military is plagued by sexual assault, harassment and rape. Through the stories of 7 former service members and the brief testimony of tens of others, “The Invisible War” lays out in terrifying detail how the military fails its members when it comes to sexual violence.
It would be impossible to do justice here to the film’s presentation of the military’s “silent epidemic.” But even someone who hasn’t seen the film can probably guess at the major hurdles faced by victims of sexual violence inside the military hierarchy.
First, if you’re a woman, you’re usually outnumbered by assailants who use your gender against you. One former servicewoman reports in the film that a superior officer told her, “The female marines are objects for the men to fuck.”
On the other hand, if you’re a man you’ll be viewed as weak and unmasculine. “You would be labeled as a buddyfucker,” we’re told by another former marine.
Second, the camaraderie that was exhilarating or comforting before you were assaulted becomes a weapon against you. Your rapist tells everyone that you slept together, that you’re a slut. You’re accused of lying to smear a man’s good name. (Does this sound familiar to anyone?) The other soldiers close rank against you. You’re the troublemaker now.
Finally, the chain of command is not your friend. What if your commanding officer rapes you? What if your commanding officer is drinking buddies with your rapist? Until 2012, the final decision in a rape investigation lay with the commanding officer. I’ll leave the reader to imagine how that ends.
The almost never-ending parade of injustice is nauseating. Over and over the film shows how military victims of sexual violence face reprisals, coverups, “lost” evidence, mishandled investigations and, usually, repeated and brutal assaults. This is the fate of one-fifth of all U.S. servicewomen: to be attacked by their “comrades” and betrayed by the organization that ostensibly supports them.
“The Invisible War” does not need a review. It seems almost wrong to write a review about such a film. So I will simply report two of my reactions.
First: In the words of Kori Cioca, a former Coast Guard member who was raped by her superior officer: “Those motherfuckers.”
Second: And in the words of Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught: “When does this ever end?”
Thanks to TU’s chapter of APA Division 19 (Military Psychology) for hosting last Thursday’s screening of “The Invisible War.” The full film is also available on Youtube and Netflix.