The Invisible War

The Invisible War

  • BY Kirby Dick | IN Women & Girls
    Premiered May 13, 2013

About the Film

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, a nominee for the 2013 Academy Awards, 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. MORE

The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 22,800 violent sex crimes in the military in 2011. Among all active-duty female soldiers, 20 percent are sexually assaulted. Female soldiers age 18 to 21 accounted for more than half of the victims.

Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of rape victims, The Invisible War exposes the systemic cover-up of military sex crimes, chronicling the women’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 that reveal the perfect storm of conditions that exist 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 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 by a senior officer and his friend, then threatened with death; 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 — were sexually assaulted in 2009.

And while rape victims in the civilian world can turn to a 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. To make matters worse, 33 percent of rape victims didn’t report the assault because the person they’d have to report it to was a friend of the rapist. And 25 percent didn’t report it because the person they’d have to report the rape to was the rapist himself.

Many rape victims find themselves forced to choose between speaking up and keeping their careers. Little wonder that only 8 percent of military sexual assault cases are prosecuted.

Is there hope that this broken system can be fixed? Many think so, and credit The Invisible War with inspiring some much-needed recent action. “This film has been instrumental in bringing the issue to light, and providing the impetus for positive change,” says Lois Vossen, Independent Lens senior series producer.

Since The Invisible War premiered at Sundance, the film has been circulating through the highest levels of the Pentagon and the Obama administration. Two day after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched The Invisible War, he directed military commanders to hand over all sexual assault investigations to a higher-ranking colonel. At the same time, Panetta announced that each branch of the armed forces would establish a Special Victims Unit. A congressional panel is set to hold hearings on sexual abuse in the military in early 2013.

The Filmmakers

Kirby Dick, Producer/Director

Producer/director Kirby Dick is known for making highly influential, award-winning films. The Invisible War is an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, and has been the impetus for possible change on a national level. His previous film, Outrage, examined the hypocrisy of powerful, closeted politicians and was nominated for an Emmy. In 2006 he directed This Film is Not Yet Rated. A breakthrough expose of the highly secretive MPAA film ratings system, the film compelled the MPAA to make long overdue changes in the way it rates films. Dick’s prior film, Twist of Faith, is the story of a man confronting the trauma of his past sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. It received a 2004 Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Dick’s other films include Derrida, Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, and Supermasochist.

Amy Ziering, Producer

Producer Amy Ziering is an award-winning and Emmy-nominated documentary producer and director who previously worked with Kirby Dick on the films Outrage and Derrida. Ziering also produced The Memory Thief, which was a New York Times critics’ pick and won several festival awards, and Taylor’s Campaign. Ziering taught at Yale during her graduate studies there. She initiated and runs the ongoing Films 4 Change activist film series.


Film Credits

A Film by Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering

Executive Producers
Regina Kulik Scully
Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Geralyn White Dreyfous
Maria Cuomo Cole
Abigail Disney
Sarah Johnson Redlich
Teddy Leifer
Nicole Boxer-Keegan

Produced by
Amy Ziering
Tanner King Barklow

Written & Directed by
Kirby Dick

Co-Executive Producer
Kimball Stroud

Doug Blush
Derek Boonstra

Design and Animation
Bil White

Thaddeus Wadleigh
Kirsten Johnson

Associate Producer
Doug Blush

Amy Ziering
Kirby Dick

Additional Camera
Michael J.C. Wooten

Assistant Editor
Edward Patrick Alva

2nd Assistant Editors
Andrea Lewis
Jason Zeldes

Online Editor
Matt Radecki

HD Services Provided by
Different By Design

Brian Hutchings

Music Supervisor
Dondi Bastone
Gary Calamar

Audio Facility
Sound Logic Post

Re-Recording Mixer
Jeremy Grody

Stock Footage Consultant
Kate Coe

Footage Courtesy of
Conus Archive
Getty Images
Oddball Film+Video
Pond5 Inc.
U.S. Department of Defense

Additional Footage by
ABC News
CBS News
NBC News
Good to Go Video

Special Thanks
Susan Avila-Smith
Diana Barrett
Bertha BRITDOC Fund for Journalism
Mary J. Blige
Rep. Bruce Braley
Rep. Susan Davis
Sandi Dubowski
The Fledgling Fund
Amy Herdy
Major General Mary Kay Hertog
Kendu Isaacs
Greg Jacob
Lieutenant General (Ret.) Claudia Kennedy
Mary P. Koss
Rear Admiral Anthony M. Kurta
Major General (Ret.) Dennis Laich
Senator Patti Murray
Rep. Chellie Pingree
Rep. Ted Poe
Marti Ribeiro
Rep. Loretta Sanchez
Service Women’s Action Network
Brian Schroeder
Rep. Louise Slaughter
Erin Sorenson
Rep. Jackie Speier
Rep. Niki Tsongas
Rep. Michael Turner
Brigadier General (Ret.) Wilma L. Vaught
Women Donors Network
Debbie Zeitman
Marilyn Ziering

Executive Producer for ITVS
Sally Jo Fifer

Funding Provided by
Phoebe Snow Foundation
Channel 4
Roger McNamee
Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation
Sundance Documentary Fund
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Funding Exchange
Chicken & Egg Pictures
Lou Colen
Louise Forrest
Elizabeth Lykins
Jim and Susan Schwartz
Jackie Zehner
Konstantine Deslis

The filmmakers wish to thank all the survivors of military sexual assault
whose courage and passion made this film possible.

The Invisible War is a co-production of Chain Camera Pictures, Inc. and Independent Television Service (ITVS),
in association with Girls Club Entertainment, RISE films, Fork Films, Cuomo Cole Productions, and Canal Plus
with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

This program was produced by Chain Camera Pictures, Inc., which is solely responsible for its content.

© 2011 Chain Camera Pictures, Inc., All rights reserved.

Twenty percent of active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted while serving. What do you think of the fact that rape is an occupational hazard of military service, as it was recently ruled to be? Would you think twice if you were considering entering the military, especially as a woman? If you’re in the military, have you known anyone involved in a sexual assault? How was it handled?


  • 2014 Emmy Award
    Best Documentary
  • 2013 Emmy Award
    Outstanding Investigative Journalism - Long Form
  • 2013 Academy Award Nomination
    Best Documentary Feature
  • 2013 George Foster Peabody Award
    Award Winner
Please review our comment guidelines.
Twenty percent of active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted while serving. What do you think of the fact that rape is an occupational hazard of military service, as it was recently ruled to be? Would you think twice if you were considering entering the military, especially as a woman? If you’re in the military, have you known anyone involved in a sexual assault? How was it handled?