“The Invisible War” Sheds Light on a Hidden Epidemic

Showing of The Invisible War. | Photo by Marry Pivazian

Kirby Dick’s investigative documentary The Invisible War exposes horrific and previously covered-up accounts of sexual assault in the military. Told from an anecdotal perspective, the film focuses on a few courageous women and their tragic stories.

React To Film, a new BU student group, hosted the event and provided a panel afterwards to discuss the difficult topics presented in the film. “The three goals of react to film are: Expose. Engage. Inspire,” said Rachel Kessler (CAS ’14) and the president of React To Film. “Expose through documentary film. Engage through discussion afterwards with a panel and they usually have some kind of action step at the end to inspire.”

 The film is based on heart-wrenching personal accounts, but the real power comes from the shocking statistics presented. The Invisible War informs viewers, using government statistics, that more than 20% of female veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the armed forces, but an estimated 80% of sexual assaults are not reported.

According to the film, soldiers are reluctant to report assaults to their superiors due to the potential repercussions. “Even an accusation of sexual harassment in the military is criminal,” said Craig Ewart, a retried special operator, in a panel discussion after the film. In many cases, survivors are required to report the crime to the sole person who committed it. Even if they do report, most cases are ignored. In 2010, 3,158 reports of sexual assault were documented for which a mere 175 predators actually did jail time. “The judicial system in the military is internalized,” said Ewart. “Rights are completely different in the military.”

Many times, the survivors are punished instead of the predators. The film shows Andrea Werner, who reported her rape to her Army superiors and was then charged with adultery even though her attacker, not her, was married.

Trina McDonald of the U.S. Navy was repeatedly drugged and raped while serving at a remote base in Alaska. “I felt like a piece of meat on a slab at that point,” said McDonald in the film.

Kori Circoa’s story only adds the established frustration. Circoa, of the Coast Guard, is still suffering medical injuries from when her attacker struck her across the face, leaving her with a dislocated jaw. The film documents the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ refusal to treat her. When she and other survivors filed a class-action suit, the charge was dismissed because rape was regarded as an “occupational hazard” of the army.

The Invisible War premiered at Sundance in January and received the Audience Award. Two days after viewing the film, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta promptly took the decision to prosecute away from commanders–but this, according to the panel, is only the beginning.

“I think we’re seeing an exceptional situation; a real epidemic of rape being revealed,” said Carrie Preston, a professor in the English department and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies program, at the panel discussion. “I’m delighted to find out that Panetta took prosecution away from the COs. But there needs to be a lot more done. There needs to be a real system of accountability put in place,” she added.

React to Film. | Photo by Marry Pivazian

While the film and the following panel discussion inspired members of the audience, Preston reminded everyone that this issue is not isolated to the military: “I think it’s very important for us to remember that the military is a microcosm of our world and rape is happening in our world. We see it here on this campus.”

For more information about The Invisible War, go to: http://www.notinvisible.org.

For more information about React to Film and future screenings, visit their website: http://reacttofilm.com.

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