Movie Review - The Invisible War

Kori Cioca in "The Invisible War"
There are several tragedies that occur within this documentary. The tragedy at the top is the one that likens what happens here with what happened at Penn State University with Jerry Sandusky or what happened in the Catholic Church with the pedophile priests. This documentary shows that the United States military is no better than PSU and the Catholic Church when it comes to sex abuse scandals. It's a male-dominated institution, more concerned with protecting itself as a whole than it is protecting the individuals within it who are the victims of horrible crimes therein. Like with PSU and the Catholic Church, some will argue that the military has just a few rotten apples, but as filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering indicate, the problem gets to a point of being so widespread that you can no longer defend the institution because clearly the whole thing has become rotten.

This leads to another tragedy. The filmmakers interview a series of women. In the beginning, they talk about why they entered the military. A lot of them come from military families, having fathers or older brothers or such who served or who are serving. None of them say they had no other option or they felt pressure to do so. All of them talk about their love and respect for the military and how proud they are to be a part of it. By the end, however, all the women talk about how they basically wish they never joined and one in particular, Kori Cioca, actually tries to stop a young girl from entering. All of them say they never want their children to enter.

This is when my heart broke. We think of the military as this great organization that's honorable and one of which we're supposed to be proud. It's one thing to disapprove of a particular war. That's not the military's fault. The soldiers are just following orders, but how it handles the internal conflicts within its ranks is another and in this case how the military behaves is shameful, absolutely shameful.

The filmmakers lay out at the top that over 20-percent of female veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving. Kori Cioca who is former US Coast Guard talks about two incidents she experienced. The first incident was a forceful sexual advance that resulted in a physical attack. The second was an out-and-out, brutal rape.

Other female veterans describe their rapes. Some were drugged. Others were jumped in their sleep. One was even raped at gun point. Hannah Sewell who is former US Navy had her virginity forcibly taken from her, resulting in serious injuries, including broken bones. What's incredible is that it's not just women. Men like Michael Matthews who is former US Air Force talks about the night he was raped at the hands of fellow soldiers. One-percent of males are reportedly raped in the military. This is of the cases that are actually reported. Given the barriers and the enormous and threatening measures to prevent women and men from reporting rape, the number of incidents are actually higher.

The filmmakers also lay out the statistic from a Navy study that 15-percent of incoming recruits attempted or committed rape before entering military, which is incredible. This information obviously comes from rape cases that are reported. This is not addressed in the film, but, given the desperate need to fill ranks because America was fighting several wars like the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq, two of which were running nearly a decade or longer, obviously the military was willing to admit rapists into the service, as long as they were physically fit.

But, that's not something that I would assume. My thoughts always go to why. Why are these men raping these women, especially military men? Military is supposed to train you to have honor, to fight to protect your country and fellow soldier, not rape them. Most men who serve do adopt this value, but 20-percent is a lot. Are we simply to think that the 20-percent merely represent twisted men who needed psychiatric help put in front of them and not military training? I guess the easy answer is yes, but maybe not.

The problem is that a woman who is raped has to report to her immediate commander the incident. She's not allowed to break protocol and report to any one else. In some cases, the rapist ends up being the commander himself. Some women say in that case the only out is either AWOL or suicide, which some have tried. Once the commander gets the report, it's his discretion whether or not the case goes any further like to NCIS or CID.

Because having rape reports looks bad for a commander whose job is to keep the soldiers in his unit in line, often the commander will sweep the report under the rug in order to make himself seem like a better commander. Having a unit full of rapes could negatively affect that commander's career. The filmmakers show in animated diagram-form that even if the rape case does go further, the likelihood that the alleged rapist will get any kind of felony conviction or any kind of punishment is slim to none.

Looking at major incidents at places like Tailhook in 1991, Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1996, the Air Force Academy in 2003 and the Washington DC Marine Barracks in 2010, what's learned is that there are serial rapists, guys who rape over and over again. The reason is that the military has demonstrated that a man can rape someone in their unit and get away with it, so why wouldn't a man rape again. He can do so with impunity.

As with documentaries about bad things that happen in the military like The Tillman Story (2010) or Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007), the bad thing that happens is made even worse due to people trying to cover up that bad thing. Women are getting raped in their own units and the military's response is to pretend like it's not happening, ignore the women or in worse case turn it back around and blame the woman, or punish the perpetrators with a slap on the wrist.

This amazing documentary has no narration. It merely lets the women who are going through this tell their stories. Their stories are powerful and emotional. Yes, they have their issues like the physical injuries that remain and even the PTSD, but many of these women are strong and keep going, even though they're going up against a juggernaut of an institution. Because they do keep going, they represent truly some of the bravest people on Earth.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.

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End credits song, "Need Someone" by Mary J. Blige


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