"It is outrageous and it is an outrage," says Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. "Honestly, I don't think it is being given the consideration it deserves."
But that may soon be changing, prompted in large part by the documentary The Invisible War, a film that has been nominated for an Academy Award and puts a face and a poignant, powerful story behind almost a dozen victims of military rape.
A special Washington, D.C. screening of the documentary, sponsored by the New American Foundation, The Hill, and Impact Arts and Film Fund, was held recently, followed by a panel discussion among the filmmakers, members of the U. S. Senate, and former military officials about what actions should be taken to expose and end a disgrace that "is putting a stain" on an institution that is supposed to represent the best of America.
Documentary director and writer Kirby Dick said he became interested in making the film after reading an article on the widespread occurrence of sexual assault within the U. S. military, predominantly directed toward women but sometimes occurring to male soldiers.
"The numbers were astonishing but what was even much more astonishing was that people hadn't heard about it," Dick said. He added that at first it was a challenge to find victims who wanted to tell their stories on camera. "They were afraid the perpetrators could come after them and they had such horrible previous experiences (in reporting the attacks to their superiors)," he noted. Eventually, however more than 100 people came forward "to tell these incredible stories."
The film has already had an impact on military decision making. Immediately after first viewing The Invisible War, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered a change in reporting. No long will victims of sexual misconduct have to give their 1st report to their immediate superior.
Flournoy praised that change. "Under the old way, the commander got punished," she said. "The last thing you wanted to do is make a phone call that you've had a sexual assault in your unit. You are supposed to be in charge. It could affect your career." However, more needs to be done, she contended. "It needs to be -you're not going to get promoted unless you've done everything in your power to get justice," she said.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, praised the power of the film. "Seeing it repeatedly has not weakened its force," Blumenthal said. "It has changed the conversation not only outside the military, but also inside the military."
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she is also working to bring changes to a system that fails to bring justice to vulnerable victims. "These are violent crimes by someone who is a predator," Gillibrand said. "Enforcing the status quo is inadequate. It cannot be rationalized. It cannot be brushed away."
Dick said he hopes his film prompts public action. "It is hard for them (the military) to change without pressure from the outside," he said. "This is our country. This is our military. It is up to us to help the military."
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you want to learn more about The Invisible War, check out these 2 trailers.
(If you are receiving this post by email and want to view the trailers, simply click here. You will be directed to the main blog page where you can access the videos).
Here is what The Washington Post had to say about the film. Here is what film-goers are saying about the documentary at the movie site Rotten Tomatoes. And, most importantly, here is an interview with the film's producer discussing the impact the film is having on the military.