This shocking if at times repetitive documentary does not make for easy viewing. Nonetheless it is a fascinating and informative piece of investigative film journalism, revealing a well-kept secret that is nothing short of a national scandal.
Though The Invisible War traces the stories of several American women (and one man) who were raped and then blamed for it during their active service in the armed forces, you have to wonder if soldiers the world over do not suffer the same treatment.
Filmmaker Kirby Dick (who gave us the insightful This Film is not Yet Rated) provides plenty of fascinating statistics (19,000 female soldiers are estimated to have been assaulted in 2010 alone) and commentary from military top brass, lawyers and congress men and women. But the bulk of the film is the compelling stories of several former soldiers. All of the women interviewed began their careers (in the Navy, Air Force, Marines etc), as enthusiastic and capable soldiers, several promoted through the ranks. They ended up nearly suicidal and still unable to discuss their ordeal without tears.
Dick focuses on the story of Seaman Kori Cioca who served two years in the US Coast Guard when her boss slapped her face so hard before raping her that he dislocated her jaw and destroyed the discs in her face. Now living in Ohio, married to a sympathetic soldier and with a young daughter, Kori still cannot get on with her life. Unable to eat properly, and being strung along with bogus appointments at the Veterans Administration, she is still trying to get the government to pay for her medical care.
The film was inspired by ColumbiaUniversity professor Helen Benedict’s article, ‘The Private War of Women Soldiers’ which sets out the epidemic scale of rape in the military (an estimated 500,000 women). Although several victims, including Kori, filed a class action suit against the government backed by hours and pages of indisputable evidence, the verdict was that sexual assault is an ‘occupational hazard’ and no one was found guilty.
For many of the women, the trauma of the assaults is made worse by the consequences of reporting the crimes. In addition to being forced to report the assaults to the very person who perpetuated it, many women were themselves investigated, demoted or even expelled from the military, their careers ended in disgrace.
One of the most shocking interviews is with a heavily made-up and carefully coiffed military official, Dr Kaye Whitley, former Director, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. Whitley is an expert at covering up the truth, avoiding responsibility and speaking in smug political-speak. She does not show up at a Congressional Hearing on the issue where she is due to answer questions and we watch her smirking boss exit the hearing satisfied that no will succeed in rocking the military’s boat this time around.