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The Invisible War

(c) 2012 Jeanne Powell
"The Invisible War" 
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a stunning documentary about a national tragedy

In November 2011, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier  introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to  reform the way rape crimes are treated in the U.S. military. 

This overdue legislation was introduced in response to an epidemic  of rape and sexual assault  of military women, committed by men in the military, which the Pentagon has known about for years – sexual assault at the prestigious military academies, at American  bases foreign and domestic, and in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan – where a military female is more likely to be raped by her colleagues than killed by enemy soldiers.
In her press release Speier stated, “For too long the military’s response to rape victims has been: ‘take an aspirin and go to bed.’ We owe our brave women and men in the military a justice system that protects them, not punishes them, when they become victims of sexual assaults and rape committed by other service members.”

Representative Jackie Speier added, “Despite 25 years of Pentagon studies, task force recommendations and congressional hearings, sexual assaults and rape in the military continue unabated. In 2010 the Department of Defense conducted a survey of active duty members which revealed that only a small percentage of the more than 19,000 incidents of rapes and sexual assaults involving service members was actually reported. For the record, an estimated 13.5 percent of sexual assaults and rapes saw the light day—and only 8 percent of those reports resulted in prosecution—in the end 465 service members were either administratively discharged or punished through the court-martial process —that’s about 2.5 percent of the total suspected acts of sexual assaults and rape….”

THE INVISIBLE WAR is an award-winning documentary which exposes official propaganda and points out that the Pentagon seems to be supporting  a culture of rape and oppression despite lip service to the contrary with phrases such as “zero tolerance” and “everything in our power”  [is being done]. 

This remarkable and poignant film contains interviews with more than a dozen military women (and a few men) whose lives were devastated as a result of sexual assault in the Coast Guard,  Marines,  Army, Air Force and Navy.  The perpetrators were their colleagues,  comrades, brothers in arms, and frequently their commanding officers.  The betrayal  is made worse by the career devotion of these patriotic enlistees and their trust in the system. 

As though this reality of sexual assault and rape were not bad enough, behavioral  experts  in the documentary testify to the fact that many of the offenders are likely to be serial rapists, both in the military and later in civilian retirement, with as many as 300 victims overall per rapist  --  such is the nature of the protection they receive from the Pentagon’s insistence on preserving absolute authority in the chain of command.

In 2011 military vet Susan Burke, Esq. brought a law suit on behalf of several of these rape survivors, alleging violation of Due Process clause, Equal Protection clause and First Amendment rights, only to have a federal court dismiss the suit  with the remark, “rape is an occupational hazard of military service, “ according to THE INVISIBLE WAR.

Congresswoman Speier’s proposed legislation would remove the oversight and investigation of military rape from the traditional chain of command, and would allow rape survivors to transfer to other units.  Speier has over 100 co-sponsors for this bill, and the support  on Capitol Hill is bi-partisan.

The stories of these rape survivors are chilling, as they speak in subdued voices of the calculating and often violent nature of the attacks.  Several survivors suffered permanent physical damage, in addition to the obvious emotional trauma.  Yet the Pentagon continues to allow this conduct in an all-volunteer military where the nation depends on the skills and dedication of female volunteers as much as males. 

Kori’s story is primary in THE INVISIBLE WAR.  Kori is a Coast Guard seaman who suffered permanent nerve damage as a result of violent rape by her supervisor.   Despite a 70% disability rating, the Veterans Administration refuses  to pay for the surgery  she needs.   Her husband left the Coast Guard because of  his wife’s  experience.  The strain on their marriage is evident, with tears in the husband’s eyes as he says he will never allow their daughter to join the military.

In another powerful moment, an active duty marine breaks down as he speaks of the ever-present fear that his accomplished wife will commit suicide because of the rapes she suffered at a prestigious Marine base in Washington D.C. The military men who raped her said they will kill her if she tries to prosecute.

This straight-forward documentary may be powerful enough to change the Pentagon mindset and bring about reform that is overdue.  Congresswoman Jackie Speier spoke in San Francisco recently when the film opened at the Metreon, urging community support around this issue.  Present were several rape survivors, some of whom are featured in THE INVISIBLE WAR. 

THE INVISIBLE WAR is directed by Kirby Dick.  Producers include Amy Ziering and Tanner King Barklow.  Thaddeus Waddleigh and Kirsten Johnson handle the camera.  Editors are Doug Blush and Derek Boonstra.  Music is by Mary J. Blige, with Gary Calamar as music supervisor.  Influential executive producers include Jennifer Siebel Newsom, director and producer of "Miss Representation," an acclaimed documentary which explores the harm resulting from the media's distorted images of women.

Beyond the urgent need to enact legislation introduced by Jackie Speier in the House of Representatives, perhaps there is an equally strong need to look closely at the American culture which glamorizes sexual assault in television series, films and video games.  Dressing women in clothing favored by prostitutes – which fashion designers admitted doing when they ran out of ideas – sends another negative message about  young women in our society. 

And we may wish to ask for an evaluation of how recruits are brought up to speed by drill sergeants and training instructors in all branches of the military.  Is it necessary to refer to new male recruits as “ladies, girls, wimps, pussies and c*nts” when instructors want to jeer at their lack of physical skill?  What are the values and backgrounds of these noncoms placed in charge of training vulnerable recruits?

Especially compelling in THE INVISIBLE WAR  are the moments when  rape survivors travel  to Capitol Hill and tell their experiences  to  several of  Representative Speier’s female colleagues.  When one Congresswoman says, “I know what you are going through,” we are reminded how much the crime of rape has infected our society on every level.   

In 1777  sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington rode on horseback all night in the rain, going from house to house to warn her father’s troops that the British were coming and to return to base immediately.   Despite the obvious multiple dangers, this “daughter of the regiment” accepted the emergency assignment  and served well.  Ludington was celebrated for her accomplishment -- celebrated -- and not resented because she had the ability and courage to do her job. 

If you wish to help stop the epidemic of rape in today’s military and make a genuine difference, instead of sitting back and pretending you cannot influence anything, then take the following action:
[1] go to  http://speier.house.gov/ to learn more.
[2] visit Rep. Speier on Facebook and Twitter if you prefer social sites.
[3] go to  http://protectourdefenders.com and get involved.
[4] see THE INVISIBLE WAR; take friends/family/neighbors/colleagues.

Rape may be an occupational hazard of war, but it is not and must not be an occupational hazard of serving among colleagues in our own military. 

So, stop, act now, and support H.R. 3435.

(c) 2012 Jeanne Powell


3 Comment count
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Thank you for this post.  

Thank you for this post.


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something to say to her


At a writers' conference in Denver, I met one of the military rape survivors.  I never forgot the gentle tone of her voice, this wife and mother from the midwest.  At least now, through this essay, I have something to say to her. 

H. Patricia Hynes' article, "Reforming A Recalcitrant Military," published February 15, 2012 on Truthout.org, provides specifics even more horrific about the culture of rape.

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Excellent, Excellent Post

Because of the high rate of casualties during the Vietnam War I had three two sets of drill instructors in Marine Corps boot camp. The first two-man crew was outstanding and didn't stoop to crass language and sexism. But the next team did. This second team also destroyed morale and lowered our performance on the physical readiness test due to excessive use of punitive pushups.

I declined three different offers to officer training school because of my lack of respect for the military caused by those fools.

The sexism and crassness is not universal, but it probably predominates. And it has to change. 

Thanks for posting.