Sometimes it take a film to make a difference. Such is the aim of the Sundance award-winning documentary "The Invisible War," which exposes one of America's most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military.
"Epidemic" really is the best word to describe the issue. As the film, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick, points out, a female soldier in combat zones today is more likely to be raped by a fellow solder than killed by enemy fire. In 2010 alone, the Department of Defense estimates a staggering 19,300 service members were sexually assaulted. That includes men.
To indict the systemic cover-up, Dick interviews victims and their families who have struggled to rebuild their lives, as well as high-ranking military officials and members of the Congress who reveal why so many rape cases remain hidden (according to the film, it's estimated that 80% of sexual assault cases in the military go unreported).
The interviews with the rape survivors are what make for the most harrowing and heart-rending moments in the film. Among the soldiers Dick profiles: a U.S. Coast Guard seaman who sustained permanent damage, a Marine who served in Iraq and was threatened with death threats after being raped by a senior officer and his friend, a woman stationed in Alaska who was drugged and raped repeatedly by military policemen, and an Air Force member who was raped and assaulted by three servicemen.
The most downright infuriating moments come when Dick shifts his focus to the all-too-frequent instances when military officials have gone to great lengths to cover up the crimes. As Dick uncovers, very few of the perpetrators serve jail time. And in many cases, the rape victims themselves are actually blamed for instigating the attack.
Kirby's made some great documentaries, including the MPAA-slamming "This Film Is Not Yet Rated"; but "The Invisible War" is no doubt his most urgent work to date. He's not out to attack the U.S. military. "The Invisible War" is simply (and powerfully) a documentary made to raise public awareness on this horrific issue, and make military authorities take action. Take the first steps by seeing this film.