Invisible No More

Serious trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault and trauma

One day I’ll write up a suggested reading list for the human race (the only book right now is J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, but I’m sure I can think of more). Once that’s done, I’ll write up a suggested viewing list for the human race. The Invisible War will be included.

The Invisible War is a documentary about the epidemic of rape in the military. It tells the stories of survivors, how their cases were either ignored or swept under the rug, how the military mangles both the prosecution of the assailants and attempts at rape prevention. It shows how rape culture has permeated the military and, by allowing most assailants to go unpunished, does nothing to stop rapists.

It’s a harrowing film, very difficult to watch, but incredibly necessary.

If you’re someone who might avoid seeing this film because you’re very sensitive about stories of sexual assault, please see it anyway. (Unless you’re a survivor yourself. Then that’s ok.) If these women and men were brave enough to share their stories, we need to be brave enough to listen. Then, having listened, we need to be brave enough to act.

It isn’t just that men in the most prestigious Marine Corps unit tell women they’re asking to be raped by wearing their military-issue skirt or because they’re wearing makeup, or that they spread rumors about women supposedly having sex with various men. It isn’t just that commanding officers are overwhelmingly the ones raping their subordinates. It isn’t just that these officers then get put in charge of their own rape cases, effectively acting as judge, jury and executioner for their own crimes.

It isn’t just that 40% of homeless female veterans were sexually assaulted while serving. Or that there is a higher rate of PTSD among women who’ve been sexually assaulted while serving than among men who’ve been in combat. It isn’t just that there isn’t a military sex offenders registry. Or that sex offenders have an average of 400 victims each.

It’s all of these things. All of them, and all of the stories these women and men share. It’s that one man, after raping one woman, put his hands all over her body and said, “I own all of this.” It’s that one man said he can still hear the laughter of his assailants. It’s that most of these men go completely unpunished. It’s that one assailant was actually awarded Airman of the Year during the rape investigation. It’s that evidence is “lost” or claimed not to be incriminating enough.

It’s hearing how proud and excited these women and men were to be joining the military, and then hearing that they would never want their daughter enlisting. One woman tried to dissuade her waitress at a restaurant from enlisting. One woman saw a high school-age girl wearing a Marines shirt and wanted to tell her not to have her life destroyed.

It’s seeing one husband sobbing while talking about having to stop his wife from killing herself. It’s how common suicide attempts are among this group of veterans. It’s hearing another husband say he left the Coast Guard because of the way they treated his wife. It’s a father in tears recounting trying to convince his daughter that she’s still a virgin.

It’s that this is a civilian issue as well as a military issue. It is a societal issue, not just a women’s issue.

I would like everyone to see this film. Then I would like people like Daniel Tosh (and the person I unfriended on Facebook over that incident) to fucking look me in the eye and tell me rape can be funny.

You can look at the film’s website to find a theater or screening. If it isn’t playing anywhere near you, I would suggest either contacting a local independent theater or an organization that might be willing to host a screening. This movie is too important to ignore. Our civilian judicial system is certainly flawed, and many challenges facing rape survivors are the same for both soldiers and civilians. But even among civilians, the rapists are never the ones who get to pronounce themselves innocent.

All of us, regardless of our feelings on the wars or the militarization of the US, need to take action to ensure that sexual assault survivors are not treated like criminals, and that the real perpetrators are punished.

The culture of silence is not just a military issue; if we do not do something to secure justice for sexual assault survivors, we too are complicit. We too perpetuate this violence and trauma when we say nothing. Tell the world, the country, the survivors, and the guilty: Survivors of sexual assault are #NotInvisible.

Because, to borrow from Janelle Monae, this is a cold war: you better know what you’re fighting for.


7 thoughts on “Invisible No More

  1. Thanks for sharing this, I’ve been wanting to see this issue taken seriously since I first heard about women serving in Iraq dying of dehydration because they were afraid of being sexually assaulted if they needed to leave their rooms to go to the bathroom at night.

    • That’s so horrifying. I’ve never heard that before. Unfortunately there are a lot of stories like this that no one hears. To me, it’s incredibly disturbing the lip service this country pays to “the brave men and women serving in the armed forces” without being willing to look at difficult realities like this. For example, we love to talk about PTSD and the military, but never about PTSD, sexual assault, and the military.

      Anyway, thank you for being concerned about these issues. Please see the movie if you can, and help spread the word.

  2. I will, if not in theaters I at least have the movie’s website bookmarked now so that I’ll remember to look for the DVD later. These are definitely issues that are going to have to be addressed if we want our military to aspire to qualities like professionalism and sanity that would keep our troops out of the ICC even if Congress didn’t insist on their being exempt from prosecution for war crimes.

    • The lack of professionalism is pretty appalling, and it makes me wonder how prevalent sexual assault is in armed forces outside the US. The film mentioned that some NATO countries have strayed from a judicial model like the US’s, instead having civilians in charge of these cases.

      Hopefully, as a result of this film (which hasn’t been getting the press it deserves) more will change than just how sexual assault cases are tried. I’d personally like to see a large percentage of commanders lose their jobs immediately, but I tend to take an extreme approach to problems like this. One day when I become a supervillain, I’ll rule the world with an iron fist.

  3. You know, I read a book that touches on questions of where military professionalism comes from and how it’s getting lost in modern war zones (though the focus is on civil wars in developing countries). It’s by a war correspondent who now works at a human rights institute, very intellectually engaging, the title is “The Warrior’s Honor”. Eventually I’ll probably blog about the ideas presented in the book, but I thought I’d mention it in case you were looking for critical thinking on the issue from a pretty well-qualified expert. Also “The Gamble” presents some of the changes in U.S. Army training and strategy implemented mid-way through the Iraq war – here the emphasis is on respecting and protecting civilian lives in Iraq, not on reducing interpersonal violence among our troops, but I highly recommend the book for an inside view of military policy making and how a few passionate leaders tackled the project of radically reforming our military’s culture, with both strategic and ethical aims in mind.

  4. Pingback: Follow-Up Time! « geekalitarian

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