FILM

The Invisible War
By Christine Teng-Henson With on February 06, 2012

I left The Invisible War almost sick to my stomach with its statistics and stories about rape in the US military – and the complicity of those in power in systematically ignoring, denying, and even punishing their victims of rape for choosing to step forward. The documentary begins with the music of a rousing military march laid on top of recruitment posters and videos from an earlier, more innocent, era. But it soon devolves, with stark contrast, into the chilling reality of how our US military system handles the high incidence of rape within its ranks. We watch several young idealistic female recruits share their reasons for joining the US military – they’re in it for the noble and good reasons. You can see in their faces how much they loved their work and life… before they were raped. Sometimes it was by their best friend there. Other times it was their commanding officer’s drinking buddy. And frighteningly frequently – many are raped by their commanding officer. They’re left with few options at that point. Given the rigid and hierarchical chain of command – who do you go to, when you issue your report? How quickly will your career end – because the person above you doesn’t want to admit that this has happened under their watch? One US Marine Corps lieutenant who worked hard and built a stellar career for herself, rose to the most elite level – where she discovered that the culture revolved around mandatory drinking parties paid for by the military– and women Marines were thought to be there “for sexual favors.” Her husband, a career-military man, took a few months to decide whether to put his own successful career on the line by sharing his story in the film. But when we watch him bowl over with grief and tears when describing how his wife’s life, career, and sense of self entirely changed after she was raped – we understand that there’s no way to continue on in the military after you know the truth and it has changed your life forever. Those featured are generally not over-emotional, as one might expect from military-trained folk. There is a matter-of-fact tone they have at times – but underneath is a combination of hurt, disillusionment, and heartbreak. Because many of the rapists are from the same company – they were trusted like family, they were their brothers. As one psychologist described it, “it FEELS like incest. When you’re working together, it IS like that band of brothers… and when that bond of trust is violated… the wound penetrates to the very inner part of one’s psyche.” The following quotes and statistics add further flesh to the picture: Women who have been raped in the military have a higher rate of PTSD than men in combat. “pillow over my head, ‘my friend’ raping me… happened repeatedly…” Suicidal ideation among survivors is commonly reported. Ironic and seemingly impossible: the single women who have been raped by married military comrades are charged with “fraternizing and adultery” – though their rapist was the one who was married. “everything changed the day I was raped” The Sexual Assault and Prevention and Response Office in the military’s grand campaign to address this was a mandatory video and this tagline: “WAIT UNTIL SHE’S SOBER” [to approach her to have sex] The Department of Defense acknowledges that 80% DO NOT REPORT they have been sexually assaulted/raped. Most sex offenders are predators, and wait until victim is vulnerable. 15% of incoming recruits attempted/commit rape. This is two times the percentage of those who attempt rape in the civilian population! One woman is forced to go on a hike with her perpetrator and talk it thru: “If only it was steeper, I would’ve jumped” “Daddy, I’m not a virgin anymore…” “Hannah, you were raped – you’re still a virgin” Kori Cioca carries a cross and a knife, because “you always have protection with Jesus but sometimes you need a little bit more” – Kori prefers to play outside with her young daughter at night because it’s quiet + no one can bother them. She and her husband are still together though they almost split over marital problems; “no sex for months” at times. She finds her suicide letter to her mother in a box at home… Men can be victimized too – one man didn’t tell anyone for 30+ years… was called a “body fucker.” Their rapists are heterosexual… Less than 5% of military sex offenders are convicted. None are put on the sex offender list. They’re now in our communities all across the country. One assailant received the “Airman of the Year” award the same year he raped one of his comrades. Unlike other documentaries, where the audience may feel impelled towards action by a highly emotional depiction of a social injustice but left uncertain as to what they could do, the tone of The Invisible War felt journalistic – and ended with a clear invitation to response. Because the hierarchical chain of command in the military is the only conduit for reporting that one’s been raped, there’s no chance of getting a fair and unbiased hearing. The military has an incredible amount of power over what happens within it– they are “judge, jury, and executioner.” The advocacy effort focuses upon establishing an impartial civilian judicial system for the US military – and invites people to sign a petition of support. You can do this at www.invisiblewarmovie.com or https://www.change.org/petitions/support-military-sexual-assault-survivors

About the Author: Christine Teng-Henson
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