Documentary about rape in US military highlights struggle for justice
A new film documenting rape and sexual assault in the military has been released in the United States as campaigners continue to fight for changes in the way that allegations are treated.
Directed by documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick, The Invisible War includes interviews with around 70 women who served in the army and were raped or assaulted.
An estimated 22,800 violent sex crimes were committed in the military last year, according to the Department of Defence. Kirby and Amy Ziering, who also worked on the film, calculate that one in five women serving in the military has experienced sexual assault.
While recent lawsuits have raised awareness of the issue and prompted more women to come forward, it is still estimated that 80 per cent of cases are never reported, with up to 25 per cent of women unable to report rape because the person responsible for receiving the report is the rapist.
Some victims, like Marine Lieutenant Elle Helmer, who is interviewed in the film, were themselves charged after reporting cases of rape and forced to leave the army while their attackers remained in post and were awarded for their services.
One such case is that of Kori Cioca, who has taken a class action civil suit against the Department of Defence after she was raped and physically beaten by her commanding officer in the US Coast Guard. When she attempted to report the officer she was told that her punishment for “lying” would be a court-martial.
The military has repeatedly come under fire for the way it handles such cases – only eight per cent of those accused of rape have been prosecuted, and just two per cent have faced conviction.
New rules announced by the Pentagon governing the investigation of reported rapes in the military have been linked to Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta’s viewing of the documentary. Panetta is reported to have told one of the film’s executive producers that the screening was partly responsible for his decision.
A lawsuit by eight current and former female members of the US military alleging rape, assault or sexual harassment while in the military and retaliation when they complained has also raised awareness of the issue.
Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine and now executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), said in a recent webchat with Naomi Wolf hosted by The Guardian, that SWAN had seen attention on the military rape crisis “absolutely explode” in the past year.
“We’ve placed a ton of pressure on Congress, the Pentagon, and the Department of Defence to transform policy to increase prosecution of perpetrators and to better serve survivors. But lots still has to be done.”
She added that women who reported rape were likely to be punished by members of their chain of command, peers or family members. They could also lose benefits and, a result of rules that mean they have to disclose any counselling, have less chance of maintaining security clearances, or being able to hold civilian jobs because of security clearance requirements.