THE INVISIBLE WAR
DIRECTED BY Kirby Dick
STARS Kori Cioca, Myla Haider
To state that the U.S. military has no rules or guidelines when it comes to combatting rape within its own ranks isn't entirely accurate. As Sgt. Myla Haider states at one point during The Invisible War, "All the things that they put in place are all pretty much intended to help women deal with being raped better. [Emphasis mine.] That's what they're about." Never mind prevention or punishment: If a woman gets sexually assaulted, well, it's not that big a deal, is it? Just shrug it off and move on.
Sgt. Haider is a member of the Army Criminal Investigation Division, but when she helps gather a group of rape survivors to launch a lawsuit, she's isn't merely acting on a professional level: She herself is a rape survivor, having been assaulted by a fellow CID staffer. And that lawsuit? The court throws it out, stating that rape is an "occupational hazard" in the military, no different from spraining an ankle or falling down the stairs while on the job.
Outraged yet? The Invisible War presents 98 minutes of outrage, with documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) delineating in painful detail how our country's military has failed so miserably in protecting the women and (in some cases) men who made the choice to serve this nation with courage, pride and dignity. Instead, the system is such that these once-idealistic souls end up emotionally and physically crushed, with fear, depression and occasional thoughts of suicide governing their lives.
At every turn, Dick shows us how this macho institution repeatedly covers up the wrongdoing perpetrated by its criminal elements. It's the ultimate game of victim-blaming, with some of the women getting charged themselves for reporting what surely must have been consensual trysts (the charge is usually "adultery") while the rapists get off scot-free or with absurdly light sentences (guilty of "obscene language," for one). As for the men who have been raped, it's explained that their assailants aren't homosexuals, but rather heterosexuals who get off on power trips and dominating those around them who are weaker.
Although armed with countless facts and percentages, Dick makes sure that the human faces take priority. He interviews numerous survivors over the course of the film, one of the most prominent being Kori Cioca. Living in Ohio with her husband and adorable daughter, Kori describes how her rapist — one of her superiors — brutally struck her in the face before assaulting her. The impact dislocated her jaw and over time led to the deterioration of crucial discs in her mouth. Five years later, she still can only eat soft food and must remain indoors when the weather's cold, as the low temperature causes discomfort. (There's a heartbreaking shot of her standing at the window as her husband and daughter play outside in the winter weather, reduced to a distant figure in her own family.) Naturally, one would assume that the military would pay for all her medical treatment and endless supply of necessary pills, but no: After putting her off for months, they tell her that she doesn't qualify since she left the Coast Guard two months too soon — a departure that, of course, was caused by the rape that occurred on the military's watch.
This powerful picture is being shown as part of the Impact Film Festival, a free series being held during both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in each event's respective town (see the full schedule here). I suspect in Tampa, the gathered will react to the film like frat boys watching The Hangover — after all, the GOP is the party of Todd Akin, Paul Ryan and the War on Women. But here in Charlotte — and hopefully in other cities if the film continues its limited rollout — it will be viewed as a call to action. The ball has already started rolling: Immediately after seeing the movie this past spring, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued a policy change declaring that immediate superior officers (who are frequently buddies with the rapists, or often are the assailants themselves) will no longer be in charge of overseeing rape charges. Let's hope that ball never slows down.