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Kerry Kennedy Headshot

An Oscar Vote for Justice

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Today, one of America's oldest and proudest employers is facing a scandal of epic proportion. With a history that stretches back even prior to our nation's independence, this organization has grown into a $550 billion enterprise, with a staff of 1.5 million spread across offices in 150 nations. It is a renowned destination for our nation's best and brightest -- the sort of place where young people with sharp minds, strong hearts, and the courage to serve, once dreamed of working.

But today, its offices have become havens for the most primitive of violent crimes; places where rape and abuse are considered occupational hazards, where 85% of assaults go unreported and where only 1 out of every 20 criminals reported will be convicted.

It is the United States Armed Forces, and its epidemic of sexual assault and systemic legal inaction is the subject of a searing new documentary, The Invisible War, currently nominated for the 2013 Academy Award.

Director Kirby Dick shines a light on a dark side of our nation's military that many would rather not see. But once seen, we have no excuse but to take action. The stories shared by survivors in the film's brief 97 minutes are frightening, but most frightening of all is the consistency of the accounts. Each survivor recounts a tale eerily similar: an incident of individual violence, followed by months of systemic brutality at the hands of a military justice system that would rather silence its victims than discipline its villains.

The military itself estimates that only 14% of rapes in its ranks are reported. Over the course of the film we learn at least one reason why: for an overwhelming number of victims, their commanding officer, the person to whom they would be required to report an attack, is either a friend of the rapist or the rapist himself. Those who do report face retributive threats from fellow officers, a coordinated assault on their character from military attorneys, and often, an outright discharge from service. The modern military justice system is by design a body incapable of blind justice.

I come from a military family, where service is seen as a badge of honor. Uncle Joe, a naval aviator, was killed in action; Uncle Jack became a war hero when he saved his crew after the PT boat he commanded sunk in the Pacific theatre; my father, Robert Kennedy, served in the Navy, and my Uncle Ted in the Army. My siblings and I were raised to honor and cherish those who serve. They are, as my father said, America's most precious resource. I still believe in that vision of the American military. I want my three daughters to believe in it as well.

For centuries, from the dirt roads of Trenton, to the hills of Virginia, to the trenches of Amiens, our armed forces never fought in a war they didn't win. Now our men and women in uniform must find a way to win the war from within. To do so will require the courage and leadership of their highest commanding officers in Arlington.

This is in fact a film with two audiences: those of us watching it in theaters, and those who can hear our calls for action and do something to create change. I urge every American to watch this film and hear these stories. And to those few in the position to influence this year's Oscar considerations, I urge you to consider what your vote in the documentary category can mean for America, for the decisions under way inside the Pentagon right now, and for the thousands of young men and women who dream ofenlisting in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.