The Invisible War: Updates

January 06, 2014 by Craig Phillips in Where Are They Now?

Kirby Dick’s film The Invisible War, which was nominated for both an Oscar and Indie Spirit Award for Best Feature Documentary, is being replayed this week on many PBS stations. If you haven’t yet seen it, we hope you’ll take the time to catch up with this important and powerful story [check local listings].

In connection with that, here are a few updates on this evolving story, in a year in which military sexual assault reports jumped up nearly 50% from the previous year, an increase defense officials said could indicate that victims are now more comfortable coming forward after a year of scandals shined a spotlight on the crimes and triggered months of debate on how to improve the military justice system. [Houston Chronicle]

First, we recommend reading through the film’s “Not Invisible” web site for more detailed information and ways you can help.  [Also, follow their Twitter feed for more current information, updates, and resources.]

Kori Cioca, whose story was featured in The Invisible War.
Kori Cioca, whose story was featured in The Invisible War.

Kori Cioca, who was featured prominently in the film, wrote a blog post about how that changed her life, after the film first came out, but also shared a note from a Captain whose Ohio Army National Guard battalion chose to screen the film during their annual training:

This weekend my Battalion tossed the Army provided training out the window and instead chose to play the documentary The Invisible War. I had seen the documentary about 6 weeks prior. I had heard of the documentary and ordered the DVD and watched it at home. It was eye opening to say the least. The day
after watching it, I contacted my Battalion Commander and told him I wanted to play it for my Battery (56 soldiers). I wanted to run it by him first and see if watching the documentary could satisfy our annual requirement for sexual assault training. He had seen the documentary as well and surprised me by taking it one step further – let’s play it for the entire Battalion (approx. 250 soldiers). By chance, a soldier in our Battalion happened to know one of the females whose story is told in the documentary and mentioned to her what we were doing and wanted to know if she was interested in attending. Our Battalion Commander extended to her the offer of attending the screening but also to address the soldiers afterwards if she was comfortable doing so. She was. What played out that Sunday morning was the single most amazing experience I have had in my 10+ year military career. [More]

One of the most important bits of news since the film’s release is that Pentagon has rolled out new rules governing how the military prosecutes and investigates sexual assault.

And just last month, a defense bill was signed into law that included reforms on how the military handles sexual assault complaints, though many pundits felt it fell far short of the changes sought by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers:

A coalition of reformers led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for months has pushed to take the investigation and prosecution of assault charges out of the chain of command. A second group of lawmakers like Sen. Claire McCaskill has resisted those changes, arguing taking sexual assault prosecution out of the military could undermine the military’s command structure.

Although opponents to Gillibrand’s amendment ultimately won out, Congress did include some modest reforms in the bill, most notably new protections for whistleblowers reporting sexual assaults.

Meanwhile, via MSNBC’s Meredith Clark:

Advocates for survivors of military sexual assault are still focused on passing Gillibrand’s proposal and helping the approximately 26,000 men and women who the military estimate experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in the 2012 fiscal year. “Congress has chosen to sidestep the most important military justice reform to come across its desk in history, once again leaving sexual assault victims devastated and betrayed by inaction,” Anu Bhagwati, Service Women’s Action Network executive director and former Marine Corps captain, said in a statement Monday. “However, the fight is not over. The majority of the American people and justice are on our side. We must continue to fight for justice for our troops by demanding Congress bring this important legislation to the floor for a vote.”

This year was notable for the sheer number of high-profile military sexual assault cases that drew public scrutiny, and if any military leaders are anxious to deflect focus away from the Pentagon’s dismal sexual assault record, they will have a disappointing new year. Data released in November suggest that the Defense Department’s 2014 report on sexual assault will see a record number of reports. The courts martial of two former Naval Academy football players for sexual assault are also scheduled to begin early next year, and progress, or lack of it, will be dissected and analyzed for any evidence of victim-blaming, rape culture, and favoritism.

Also, here’s an example of how it isn’t just women who have been victimized in sexual assault cases: “Military sexual assault victim: ‘The system works against you‘ “:

More disturbing for a Pentagon struggling to gain control of a seeming epidemic of charges concerning rape and unwanted sexual advances in the ranks, Smith’s attempts to get help only worsened his troubles. After a lengthy investigation, the military decided that no crime had occurred, and it later moved to discharge Smith on medical grounds.

The case highlights a little-recognized reality for the male-dominated military. Although members of Congress have focused their outrage on abuse of women in uniform, the Pentagon reported in May that 53 percent of the estimated 26,000 troops who were raped or forced into sex last year were men.

As a Doonesbury comic strip pointed out, we have a long way to go [hat tip, Ted Hope]:

Doonesbury strip, 1/8/13

Craig Phillips

Craig is the digital content producer for Independent Lens, based in San Francisco. He is a film nerd, cartoonist, classic film poster collector, wannabe screenwriter, and owner of/owned by cats.