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Monday Reviews: The Invisible War

November 19, 2012

Every Monday, The CSPH takes a look at a book or film focusing on an aspect of sexuality. This week we are looking at The Invisible War (trigger warning: rape).

This 2012 film was directed by Kirby Dick, examining sexual assault in the American military, receiving the Documentary Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. In addition to The Invisible War, Kirby Dick has produced other thought-provoking documentaries such as Twist of Faith and Outrage.

Over the course of the film, the audience learns what drew these people to the military, their experience before being raped, about the rape itself, and the aftermath. Even though the minute details are all different, their experiences stuck to a disturbing trend, of how one person put it, “to help women get raped better.” While this violence isn’t isolated towards women, and there is a male interviewed, the film examines how there is more stigma against males who are raped, and that in pure numbers more males are raped in the military as they compose a far higher percentage of the armed forces.

Perhaps more shocking than the assaults themselves, is how those violated are silenced or treated like criminals; some people are even charged with adultery when their rapist was the one married. Between scenes, hard facts from the Department of Defense are inserted. A particularly shocking one was that more women who are sexually assaulted by their fellow soldiers have higher PTSD rates than men in combat.

The film highlights a class-action lawsuit in which some of the survivors participated. As shown in the film, the case is dismissed because “rape is an occupational hazard” of military service. Instead of dismissing rape so lightly, one of the individuals remarks that perhaps people who are sexually assaulted in the military should receive purple hearts.

To clarify, the film does not seem to be condemning the military itself, just the military’s allowance of a rape culture. Every person interviewed had stated that they refused to be a part of an anti-military film. It does end on a tiny positive note, that after watching this film the Secretary of Defense, First Lt. Leon Panetta, established that sexual assault investigations are given to a higher ranking colonel. Though this is better than people having to report their rape to their direct superior, who is perhaps the rapist or a friend of them, there is still much ground to cover in making the military anti-rape.

Though this film is rather intense, it is definitely worth watching. Sexual assault in the military is shown as being ingrained in the culture itself, rather than an anomaly or something provoked through active duty. Topics are not skirted around, and plain language is used throughout. The pacing works rather well, in that the film focuses in-depth on a few people’s experiences rather than shallowly covering many. This certainly isn’t a light or easy film to watch, but it is important as it sheds light on an issue that is rarely, if ever, talked about.

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