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‘The Invisible War': A GoodTherapy.org Movie Review

Female soldier in uniform

Whether you are thinking of joining the military, are an advocate against sexual abuse and violence, or simply want to watch a riveting documentary, I encourage you to see The Invisible War. Filmmaker Kirby Dick exposes the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military and its widespread cover-up. Watching the movie will most likely leave you horrified, angry, devastated, and weeping, and hopefully it will encourage you to take action against sexual abuse in the military and elsewhere.

Inspired by Helen Benedict’s 2007 Salon story, The Private War of Women Soldiers, and using Defense Department statistics, The Invisible War reveals that as many as 500,000 women and men in the U.S. military have been raped or sexually assaulted since World War II. One percent of men in the military are victims of rape, nearly 80% of all survivors never report for fear of retaliation and intimidation, and 25% of women do not report rape because the person responsible for receiving complaints often is the rapist.

The Invisible War takes viewers through a series of horrific personal accounts. The victims—mostly women, but a sampling of men as well—tell of the trauma of their rapes, and recount the negative backlash they experienced for reporting them. The story is sad: Our military promotes sexism and, by considering rape an “occupational hazard,” it promotes the notion that men are rapists and unable to control their urges.

The military’s comical yet sad attempts at “awareness” campaigns, with messages such as “ask her when she is sober,” reveals a culture of rape, an environment in which violence against women is normalized. Forty years ago, Susan Brownmiller wrote in Against Our Will that rape is not a crime of lust, but rather of “violence and power.” The Invisible War shows us the validity of such a statement and how women and men suffer in institutions where rape is allowed. In such institutions, one is surrounded by a culture of rape with ample use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence. Rape culture affects everyone—men and women are required to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity rooted in patriarchy, and cultures of dominance of the males over the females.

The documentary also is an intimate portrayal of the effects and aftermath of sexual abuse and rape. Viewers will be saddened as they watch the heartbroken survivors, but they will also become enraged at the military’s inability to protect them or, worse, its efforts to silence them.

This story is best illustrated by the case of Kori Cioca, a Coast Guard veteran who was attacked while serving in Michigan. Her assailant beat her, leaving her with post-traumatic stress and a dislocated jaw. Revictimizing her, the Department of Veterans Affairs repeatedly refuses to treat her or to cover her medical expenses. Cioca continues to suffer from a broken jaw, forcing her to live on a liquid diet. She cannot go outside when it is cold because of pain. Her assault remains with her both physically and emotionally: She often wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, and can hardly tolerate sexual intercourse with her husband, to whom she professes her love. The response of the military to her emotional harm was hardly better than the response to her physical pain. Instead of providing therapy for PTSD, she was fed countless pills in an effort to make the problem disappear.

As survivors explain in the movie, the trauma of shame comes from being punished in reporting the crime, and often this punishment is much more damaging psychologically than the rape itself. Statistics show that rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and their attendant consequences often are risk factors for PTSD, and for women veterans in particular there is an added risk of homelessness. In 2010, for example, 39% of homeless women veterans screened positive for military sexual trauma. And women who have been sexually abused during military service have a higher incidence of PTSD than men who have been in combat.

The courage displayed by the survivors who participated in this film is powerful and overwhelming. Toward the end of the film, we are told that two days after watching The Invisible War, on April 14, 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta implemented new steps to stop assaults and make it easier to prosecute offenders. He also established a special victims unit for all military branches. Yet these acts are not enough. We must advocate to change the culture of the military.We must also advocate that veterans receive proper medical care, including psychotherapy by a therapist who understands and is trained in issues dealing with sexual trauma and abuse.

As a therapist counseling victims of sexual abuse and trauma, I have heard horrific stories and witnessed the power of healing and the resilience of survivors. I have seen victims transform into survivors and some into powerful advocates against sexual violence. Yet I always encourage therapists and clients alike to go a step further and challenge systems that promote trauma and abuse. As citizens of this country, we cannot afford to be passive audiences, watching a documentary, feeling empathy yet returning to our lives as the credits roll. We must take action.  Whether you encourage others to see the movie, visit www.NotInvisible.org and seek ways you can help, get involved with the Service Women’s Action Network, or ignite political action alongside survivors to hold the military accountable, you can play a role in ending rape culture.

The Invisible War is not an anti-military movie. Its message is that these soldiers, who still believe in serving their country, deserve better. We all deserve better, and we all need to promote justice. Spread the word and stand in solidarity with survivors as we hold the military accountable and, in the process, reveal zero tolerance for rape and sexual abuse.

Reference:
Brownmiller, S. (1993). Against Our Will – Men, Women and Rape. Random House, N.Y.

© Copyright 2012 by Silvia M. Dutchevici, MA, LCSW, therapist in New York, New York. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Colleen September 25th, 2012 at 3:25 PM #1

    Whoa, this sounds like a very powerful documentary, but I am curious how it could NOT be anti military given the meassage. What young girl is going to want to join after seeing or hearing about this? And what’s more, what mom or dad is going to support their daughter’s choice to join the military if they think that this is the kind of atmosphere that she will be thrown into?

  • LUCAS September 25th, 2012 at 4:32 PM #2

    There is the so-called ‘Golden Hour’ after a stroke wherein the person can be revived and treated much better. That is an important time and the victim of the stroke needs to cared for immensely. Its the same here, what happens after such an abuse or rape can have drastic results on what happens to the victim in the long run. And to see that victims are further victimized is just horrible. I shall definitely see this documentary.

  • hanna September 25th, 2012 at 11:56 PM #3

    this is just ridiculous.we have our forces at these places far away from home to do something,to be there united and as one,as a family,helping each other in our mission,and these people just prey on their colleagues and subordinates?this is nothing short of a heinous crime and there is an urgent need for autonomous body to handle such cases,as the ones in position right now are the ones that are committing the crimes.

  • renee price September 26th, 2012 at 3:53 AM #4

    This took so much courage and bravery for both the filmmaker and the women and men who chose to come forward and tell their stories for this documentary. This is an issue that has been going on for so long that in the military it has become the norm and so accepted that tey almost feel like it is an acceptable way of life for them. I sincerely hope that the higher ups in the armed services see this as the wake up call that it is meant to be and that they decide that it is time to once and for all put an end to these barbaric practices and that if we are going to offer full support to our military men and women then has to be the very first element of culture that we change within this club.

  • mattF September 26th, 2012 at 7:10 AM #5

    How can you say that this is true based only on the stories of a few? It’s like you are looking for someone to blame.

  • Lea September 26th, 2012 at 2:33 PM #6

    Why is it that we always need something as dramatic and big as a documentary or something online to open our eyes?How were these issues just brushed under the carpet for so long?That is the real question.While taking steps and measures to improve the system is a foregone decision,they should also find and punish those who helped rubbish these things in the past.

  • Marine4Life September 26th, 2012 at 2:51 PM #7

    Sometimes you have to take stories like these with a grain of salt. I am not saying that they are not true, because sometimes they very much are. But it is just like the rest of society. Sometimes bad people do bad things and make poor choices and quite often that has little to do with whether or not they are in the military. Soldiers are not the only ones who are experiencing these types of things. This is something that goes on every day, so how come there is only outrage when it is presented like this but not about the other stories and headlines we read about every day that don’t include a member of the military?

  • gillian September 27th, 2012 at 5:54 AM #8

    first we heard about the declining mental health of those in the forces and then about the growing number of suicides.and now we hear this.I think all of these issues are interrelated and are not isolated from one another.not to defend the perpetrators,but we need to find what factors push them towards committing a crime such as rape.

    it could be due to a variety of reasons.and only getting to the bottom of this can help,cosmetic changes in the system will not help.

  • Keri September 27th, 2012 at 10:04 AM #9

    You don’t even have to be a female in the military to be raped, strangled, chocked, be treated abusively for years. You can simply be married or divorced from a special forces soldier and all will be cometely ignored. The commanders don’t care and call it a civil matter, even when it affects the child.

    It matters because these men are in leadership positions, use weapons, and are trained to kill people and many believe they are above the law. They get away with it and continue.

    It matters and needs to be addressed.

  • alyssa September 27th, 2012 at 4:00 PM #10

    I find it so sad that in the 21st century there are still soldiers, male and female, who are being abused in this manner. It’s about time that someone was willing to stand up and speak the truth about the role that the military plays in this. Maybe they don’t overly promote that a message of rape is acceptable, but by ignoring the problem for so long they have almost made it allowable and even acceptable. You hear too many stories of this happening for them not to believe that it is ok to show superiority and rank this way.

  • Dilan June 29th, 2014 at 7:15 AM #11

    There is a problem with some of the claims. 500 000 rape in the military? There is only 210 000 active women in the military. So on average ALL women get raped twice?? Rape is horrible and should be prosecuted always but why the need to make some absurd claims like that.

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