Independent Lens | The Invisible War
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Watch Monday, January 6, 2014 at midnight on WMHT TV.

Nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature, The Invisible War is a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of America’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The film paints a startling picture of the extent of the problem; today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 19,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2011. Veterans Affairs (VA) studies have shown that one third of women seeking assistance from the VA have been sexually assaulted, and that more men than women are assaulted while in service.

Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of rape victims, The Invisible War is a moving indictment of the systemic cover up of military sex crimes, chronicling the veteran’s struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. It also features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress, which reveal the perfect storm of conditions existing for rape in the military, its long-hidden history, and what can be done to bring about much needed change.

At the core of the film are often heart-rending interviews with the rape survivors themselves, people like Kori Cioca, who was beaten and raped by her supervisor in the U.S. Coast Guard; Ariana Klay, a Marine who served in Iraq before being raped and threatened with death by a senior officer and his friend; and Trina McDonald, who was drugged and raped repeatedly by military policemen on her remote Naval station in Adak, Alaska. And it isn’t just women: according to one study's estimate, one percent of men in the military — nearly 20,000 men — were reportedly sexually assaulted in 2009.

And while rape victims in the civilian world can turn to an impartial police force and judicial system for help and justice, rape victims in the military must turn to their commanders — a move that is all too often met with foot dragging at best, and reprisals at worst. Many rape victims find themselves forced to choose between speaking up and keeping their careers. Little wonder that only eight percent of military sexual assault cases are prosecuted.

The Invisible War exposes the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, one of the most underreported stories of our generation. Since it premiered at Sundance, the film has been circulating through the highest levels of the Pentagon and Congress. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched The Invisible War on April 14, 2012. Two days later, he directed unit commanders to hand over all sexual assault investigations to a higher-ranking colonel (or Navy captain). At the same time, Panetta announced that each branch of the armed forces would establish a Special Victims Unit. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force ordered all wing commanders around the world to fly back to Washington, DC to view the film, which is now being used by the military as part of its sexual-assault training programs. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated in his confirmation hearings that he watched The Invisible War, and the film was mentioned repeatedly by senators and generals during the Senate Armed Services hearings in March 2013.

“We hope the film will affect lasting changes in the way the military investigates and prosecutes sexual assault crimes and supports and cares for assault survivors,” said Kirby Dick. To that end, The Invisible War is a call for our civilian and military leadership to listen — and to act.