Military sexual assault is one of those seemingly hidden crimes, the outcry against it muffled by the blanket of the got-your-back, brothers-in-arms credo that seems endemic to the American military.
Kirby Dick's shocking documentary, The Invisible War, details a small part of what seems like, at minimum, an epidemic -- not just of sexual assault in the military but of the closed-ranks mentality that keeps the outrage from bubbling into public view more often than it does.
Dick interviews more than a dozen women who have been brave enough to speak out about their own attacks -- and who have tried to fight back. To a person, they are women who joined the military because of a call to duty and a sense of pride in their country. Once they got there, however, they discovered that the enemy was, in fact, in the barracks down the hall.
They tell the camera, in as much detail as they're able, about being assaulted, raped, even injured, by fellow servicemen or, in some cases, by their commanders. Which presents the key problem: Accusations about sexual assault in the American military are dealt with through the chain of command.
Which means that, instead of reporting an attack to the police -- or even the military police -- it is reported to the victim's commanding officer, who then has at his (always, it seems, his) discretion to investigate and dismiss it. One problem: In a third of these cases, the attacker is friends with the commander; in a quarter of them, the commander himself has committed the assault.
Dick's film moves back and forth in history, examining the reluctance with which the military accepted women and the fact that this culture of assault has been part of that military culture almost from the time they were. He also follows a lawsuit in which a number of the victims sue the military for its lack of responsiveness and lobby Congress to change the way sexual assault is dealt with in the military.
He also follows the case of one woman, Kori Cioca, whose attacker hit her so hard that he misaligned her jaw. The film details her struggle to get the Army to actually pay for the medical care for this condition -- which has given her massive headaches and forces her to eat only soft food. It's a damning sequence.
The Invisible War is tough, heroic stuff -- heroic on the part of the women who are brave enough to come forward to speak to Dick's camera. As one of the women observes, these women are victimized three times: when they're raped, when their cases are dismissed -- and when the military harasses them for reporting the assault in the first place.
Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.