One of the most confronting and honest documentaries I’ve seen this year, The Invisible War (2012, dir. Kirby Dick) focuses on the prevalence of and experience of sexual assault in the United States military; of both female and male victims. Bringing survivors together to share their stories, the film takes a investigative angle on this issue and seeks to not only explore the causes and undercurrents of it, but also to shine a light on the problems with the system that allow such injustices to occur.
Watching this film was an incredibly visceral experience. It essentially begins with an introduction on the U.S. military forces through old-school recruiting advertisements. After seeing kitschy, vintage ads, we are then introduced to a number of women who initially discuss why they decided to join the military, and the jobs they were recruited for. We learn of their hope for the future, and passion for the military, conveying a sense of adoration for the job that only someone who has served in the military could really understand. Then, we watch in shock as each of these women, and some men, describe their sexual assault experiences, which over time begin to sound horrifyingly similar to one another. At times it is very difficult to listen.
What’s even more terrible is the injustice that occurred after each of these sexual assaults was perpetrated within the military system. Each of the perpetrators of the assaults against these individuals received very light discipline, or none at all, and the women were the ones who not only had to experience the trauma but also receive a punishment for it. Why are the victims being punished? The film repeatedly asks this question, and more, and builds up a very convincing bulk of stories, statistics and research to show that there is a significant rape culture in the U.S. military that is being protected from the inside.
To give you an indication of the types of numbers mentioned in the film, in 2010 it was shown that 3198 sexual assaults in the military were reported, and only 244 perpetrators were punished. However, due to the under-reporting of sexual assault, the number of assaults could actually be as high as 19,000. These numbers boggle the mind but the documentary does an excellent job in bringing these numbers down to a human level, through exploring the stories of a number of women, so that we can understand the humanity of the issue as opposed to the cold statistics. These stories are compelling and heartbreaking.
The Invisible War has to be commended for its fearless gaze on this uncomfortable issue. When watching, you get the feeling that this is a story that has been waiting to be told in such blunt terms, rather than dancing around the issue with euphemisms and victim-blaming. Women and men are being assaulted and the perpetrators of these assaults are being protected. Due to its direct message, the film has since affected change in U.S. law, which affords protection and comparatively more legal safety to victims of sexual assault in the military, as well as programs that actually focus on prevention (as opposed to the hilariously weak programs discussed in the film – its only moment of comic relief). This film has had a huge impact, and for that, it deserves utmost praise.
An important note: Even though this film’s direct focus on sexual assault in the military is one of its strengths, it also should be said that anyone thinking of watching this film who has been a primary or secondary victim of rape or sexual assault should keep in mind their level of personal discomfort when watching. The discussions and descriptions of the assaults that happened can be very graphic, so people who are triggered by these issues should take caution.
This is one of those documentaries where you need some quiet time afterwards to think and reflect on the information you’ve just taken in. This documentary will make you feel angry and helpless at times, yet also optimistic for change. Even though this documentary is amazing, it’s not a film that I would go around recommending to everyone simply due to its confronting themes. But yet, it has to be seen. The Invisible War has a message that cannot be ignored anymore.
Watch the trailer here.
Watch this film at Amazon!