“The Invisible War” reveals extent of sexual assault and lack of redress in military

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On May 5 the officer in charge of the Air Force’s efforts to confront sexual assault, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested for sexual battery in Virginia . The tragic irony of this arrest occurring days before the premiere of the new documentary “The Invisible War” by the Oscar and Emmy- nominated team of director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, cannot be overstated.

This deeply disturbing documentary is the voice for several female victims of sexual assault in all the branches of the military, and some male victims as well. The women have banded together to file suit against the military for violation of their Constitutional rights. One former Coast Guard service member had her face fractured while resisting the advances of a rapist who continued to harass her afterwards. He is still in the Coast Guard and has never been prosecuted. The female, Kori Cioca, after five years, has not been able to obtain benefits from the VA for her injuries. In fact, during the process they ordered an X-ray of her back even though all the paper work and doctor reports stated that she was seeking benefits for facial injuries. Since the attack she has only been able to eat soft foods such as mashed potatoes and Jell-O.

According to the film, since 1991 it is estimated that 500,000 women have been sexually assaulted in the military.  In one recent calendar year, 1% of men in the military, that is about 20,000, have also been sexually assaulted by males.

The film starts with the Navy’s Tailhook scandal in 1991, proceeds through 1996 Aberdeen Proving Ground case where 30 service women filed complaints of sexual assault, to 2003 when investigators discovered that there had been 42 allegations of rape in the Air Force Academy over ten years, complaints that were ignored – to 2011 when 3, 192 cases of sexual assault were reported; the unreported cases can only be estimated.

The most that the Department of Defense has done so far about sexual crimes in the military is to create a poster campaign for military personnel to urge prevention of sexual assault by use of the buddy system. In one video dramatization, a female soldier leaves her workplace then runs back when a man harasses her. The soldier on duty blames her: “Why were you alone? Where was your buddy?” She replies, “I didn’t think I needed one.” Obviously, she did and so do you.

Kori Cioca, now married with a child, carries a cross and a folding knife with her. She says she knows Jesus is with her but she needs to knife just in case.

The crux of the problem seems to lie, according to the victims and their advocates in the film, with unit commanders who have no legal training, and sometimes no higher education. It is up to them to adjudicate cases, whether or not accusations move through the military justice system. Often, they are the assailants or their buddies are and victims can be prosecuted for various reasons for reporting assaults; giving a false report (even if they didn’t) and committing adultery (even if they were raped and are not even married.)

Almost all of the victims have attempted suicide at least once. One of the saddest moments in the film is when Cioca finds and reads the suicide note she wrote for her mother. After one attempt, Cioca decided to live when she learned she was pregnant, hoping the life within her would not have to live through what she had.

Equally sad is the story of one Navy recruit who joined the military because her father, still in the Army, encouraged her. He breaks down when he recalls the phone call that told him she was no longer a virgin because she was raped. Equally sad are the stories of men who were assaulted by men.

Almost all of these young women joined the military out of idealism and the desire to serve their country. The reports of rapes and assaults at the prestigious Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, DC, are stunning.

Two days after the Secretary for Defense Leon Panetta saw the film in April 2012 he took away the right to adjudicate rape cases from commanders, though this seems not to have been implemented.

The film does not tell us what the military overall is doing to make rapists and assailants accountable. A pitiable percentage of these sexual predators are prosecuted; there are virtually no consequences for rapists in the military, nor is there a data base for offenders, they only make it to the national database if they receive more than one year’s punishment for a crime (that the military then deems to equals a felony).

The lawsuit filed by the former service women, many of whom are interviewed in the film, was thrown out. The Department of Defense deemed that their rapes and injuries were the result of an “occupational hazard” and therefore merited no redress.

My conclusion after seeing “The Invisible War” is that the film should be a warning, at the very least,  to women to stay out of the military until the Department of Defense makes the changes needed that will protect the rights of all military personnel and assure justice. Assailants are unpunished, not listed, and known to reoffend and then they are turned back to America’s neighborhoods. This is a horrifying situation.

The United States military is a closed system not unlike the Catholic Church.  The church is still learning its lessons; what will it take for the U.S. military to be held accountable for this travesty?

USA Today reported on May 7 that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, after Krusinski’s arrest and a more recent report about the increase of sexual assaults, has ordered the military to take immediate steps to address the problem of sexual assault within its ranks. President Obama told victims that he “has their backs” though what this means in practical terms is still to be determined and seen.

Parents, why would you let your sons and daughters go in the military (if you have any say-so) if 20,000 men each year are assaulted sexually and untold numbers of women?


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