Friday, June 22, 2012

The Invisible War

Homeland Insecurity: An Alarming Epidemic Of U.S. Military Men Raping U.S. Military Women (And Men)

U.S. Coast Guard Kori Cioca in Kirby Dick's documentary "The Invisible War". 
Cinedigm/Docurama Films


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, June 22, 2012

You are in bed.  You believe you are dreaming but feel a heavy weight on top of you.  You awaken but can't move.  There's sharp, unrelenting pain.  You are being raped. 

The horror of that awful life-changing and devastating crime is relived again and again and again by multiple survivors of rape who were attacked while in the U.S. military.  In "The Invisible War" filmmaker Kirby Dick ("This Film Is Not Yet Rated") chronicles harrowing stories of women (and some men) who served their country with pride and were raped by fellow military colleagues.  The documentary opened today in select U.S. cities and is a must-see eye-opener.

Mr. Dick shows military servicewomen (and men), each of whom tell similar, wrenching stories about their attacker shipmates, comrades and marines.  In Ohio, Kari Cioca of the U.S. Coast Guard bears the permanent physical and psychological scars of rape but presses on with husband Rob and their daughter, only to be knocked back on her heels by a molasses-speed Veterans' Administration whose bureaucracy is as outrageous as it is frustrating.  Ms. Cioca is violated by the VA.  U.S. Navy recruit Hannah Sewell of Kentucky considers suicide as an escape from her trauma.  A virgin when entering the Navy, Ms. Sewell was attacked and severely injured by a fellow Navy officer.  A man in the Marines talks about being raped by a member of his unit and staying silent for 35 years before telling a soul.

"The Invisible War", written by Mr. Dick and based on Dr. Helen Benedict's 2007 article "The Private War Of Women Soldiers", is produced by Amy Ziering.  The film is one of the year's best and most unflinching pieces of non-fiction.

The statistics seen in the film are beyond alarming: more than 20% of female veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the U.S. military, we are told early on.  There are many more painful facts and stories on display, ones told with sensitivity and courage.  A stunning, sobering document, "The Invisible War" takes a raw and incisive look at systemic rape while analyzing the atmosphere and culture of the military and its history, mentioning the 1991 Tailhook Convention scandal, where scores of naval women were attacked by their male comrades. 

"The Invisible War" begins with an intimate collage of people humanized amidst vast, troubling exponential numbers of victims of rape in the military.  Many of the women who suffer agree that the cover-up, inaction, reprisals and condoning of rape in the ranks is worse than the rape itself.  More disturbing still is the armed services rape prevention organization with a clueless executive that pays lip service to a rampant crime with offensive and callous ad campaigns and posters.  The conundrum of seeking justice for a violation of your personhood becomes ever more uncomfortable when met with profound indifference.  In many cases the official to register a complaint of rape to is the very person who committed the rape being complained of. 

I have not been moved or anguished by any film so far this year quite as much as I have "The Invisible War".  I'm not afraid to say that I sat angered and horrified, with tears in my eyes.  To watch Mr. Dick's straightforward, piercing documentary is to bear witness to the agony borne out of long-suppressed and disregarded voices.  It is grim, necessary viewing.  Even when "The Invisible War" becomes a touch ceremonial -- a quintet of rape survivors military visit Capitol Hill to speak to U.S. congresswomen -- it remains relevant and sincere.  Somewhat naively I waited for an upbeat payoff for "The Invisible War" but it never arrived.  And that's the film's most refreshing aspect: it stays true and respectful to the seriousness of the issues it examines, right to the very end.

If you think the U.S. military is adequately doing anything to prevent the atrocity of rape on its watch "The Invisible War", a somewhat ironically-titled film, will strongly dispel those notions.  This compelling and important film is an urgent, heartfelt wake-up call to awareness and action to not only bring the U.S. military's unholy secret about the high incidence of rape in its ranks but to stop such crimes.

"The Invisible War" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.  The film's running time is one hour and 37 minutes.  Three words: intense and heartbreaking.

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