Kori Cioca of the Coast Guard shares her emotional story in “The Invisible War.”
When it comes to occupational hazards, a career in the military certainly stacks them up higher than most others. But when one considers the obstacles that servicemen and women face on the battlefield, rape doesn’t immediately come to mind.
According to The Invisible War, it should.
So said the verdict of a dismissed class-action lawsuit that included several of the women interviewed in The Invisible War. That’s right; rape is an “occupational hazard” of a career in uniform.
This harrowing documentary from Academy Award-nominated director Kirby Dick tells the story of the men and women who learned that firsthand while serving in the armed forces. While the filmmakers interviewed some 100 people over the course of the project, they represent only a fraction of the victims.
The Department of Defense estimates that there have been 95,000 violent sex crimes committed in the military since 2006, and that 20% of women in the military experience sexual assault. What’s more, 80% of those crimes go unreported. What follows these acts of violence is often more disturbing than the crime itself — victims face charges of adultery, demotions and dismissals. Their assailants go unscathed; they continue on to a life of, in some cases, promotions and Purple Hearts.
The Invisible War is an aesthetically simple film. It’s comprised predominantly of interviews and archival footage of military ad campaigns and snapshots from the victims’ days serving. Typically, documentarians know that showing is far more effective than telling. In this movie, however, interviewees paint pictures that audiences surely could not stomach, even if they had been recorded.
With each individual story more heart-wrenching than the last, the larger narrative becomes impossible to bear. Kori Cioca was attacked while serving in the Coast Guard. Her assailant dislocated her jaw; she has been on a soft diet of Jell-O and pudding for some six years since.
Trina McDonald was drugged and raped repeatedly while on a remote assignment in Alaska with the Navy. She couldn’t report the assault because the authorities she’d report it to were the ones committing the crimes.
There are women in this movie that are just barely in their twenties, whose lives have been forever plagued by trauma and fear. It’s tough not to wonder how different their lives would be if they’d taken a different path.
But this is an issue that reaches far beyond the military scope. Sexual assault hits far too close to home throughout the country these men and women are trying to protect. According to One in Four USA, 20% of college women have been raped in their lifetime.
The Invisible War is difficult to watch, which is exactly why I hope that audiences will head to the theaters in droves. It is both an issue and a movie that cannot be ignored.
The film community has received that message; The Invisible War took home the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It’s also garnered a rare 100% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
Now we can only hope that audiences follow suit. The film is brutally honest, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to leave the theater not wanting to somehow take action. Be it the military’s infuriating anti-rape campaigns that urge male soldiers to “wait until she’s sober” to make their move, or the shattering testimony of a very young girl who dreamt of the institution that stole away her virginity — something will compel you to, at the very least, spread the word.
This project has already had made an impact. Shortly after watching the film, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta began altering military procedures to support sexual assault victims and make prosecutions more likely. But there is still a long and treacherous road ahead if he truly wants to reverse these sickening patterns.
The Invisible War is a hard-hitting and provocative wake-up call that will stick with you long after you leave the theater. It is an important investigative expose for both men and women, for people of every age and every political persuasion.
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