The Invisible War (2012): “If this is happening to me, surely I’m not the only one.”

invisible_warOne 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.

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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.

4.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

20 comments

  1. Great review, disturbing topic. Nice job. I would really love hearing from you regarding another documentary about the military if you have the time.
    http://cindybruchman.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/film-spotlight-dirty-wars/

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I’m always on the lookout for documentaries about the military because I find the whole thing quite interesting. Shall have a look at your post!

  2. One of the more harrowing documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time. Also, one of the very few documentaries that really made me want to get up and help its subjects out. Good review.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Harrowing is definitely the perfect word for this one. It’s such an effective documentary in that way, because it’s a clear-cut exploration of injustice on a mass scale. It doesn’t have to be deliberately provocative or resort to other ways of proving itself.

      I’ve found that lots of people have been posting on Facebook and other social media about Blackfish, and actively getting involved with that cause. But this one didn’t get the same response, and from what I’ve seen is virtually unspoken about. I wonder if it’s because rape and sexual assault is so uncomfortable to talk about for most people. A huge shame as that’s what allows these crimes to go unpunished.

  3. Sounds like a tough watch….

    1. Totally tough, but absolutely worth it!

  4. Not heard of this one before but sounds really affecting. Sounds tough but worth a watch.

    1. It’s very affecting and definitely very tough! But at the same time it’s one of the most courageous docs I’ve seen in a while. Absolutely worth a watch!

  5. I’ve heard this is really good. Definitely not Saturday night popcorn fodder though eh. It’s good that someone has been brave enough to bring such issues to the attention of the public.

    1. Definitely not a light-hearted Saturday night viewing! Totally agreed – one of the most courageous docs I’ve seen recently, and absolutely worth the discomfort of watching. People need to know more about this!

  6. “The Invisible War has a message that cannot be ignored anymore.”

    Though I haven’t seen this movie, let me ammend: ‘The Invisible War has a message that cannot be ignored, and never should have been.’ Seems like the sort of thing that mightn’t be easy to enjoy, really, but is still valuable for the important topic it considers. I’ll check it out at some point.

    1. Absolutely agreed! It is a huge shame on the military’s part that this type of culture happened in the first place and was fostered to become what it is today. Would love to hear your thoughts on this one, though it is a really, really tough watch. I did need a lot of thinking time afterwards.

  7. I’ve heard of this, and chose not to watch it. Not because I don’t think it’s worth watching, but simply because rape in the military is such a prominent concern in the United States, and has been for a long time. When I think about the features that characterize the military–obedience, patriotism, unquestioning loyalty, “bravery,” and virile masculinity–I unfortunately think that you can’t tackle the sexual assault issue without changing these cornerstone features as well.

    1. Absolutely agreed! The film touches on all of those issues in a really interesting way, in order to analyse the reasons why violence against women happens even though women are paradoxically encouraged to join. I think the film also acknowledged that things probably won’t get better for women in the military unless a fundamental attitude change happens, involving those specific characteristics. There is a culture like this in the Australian military as well, which has been getting quite a bit of press lately. I’m just glad that there are films like this to highlight the issue and to show everyone that perpetrators shouldn’t stay hidden and unpunished!

      1. Ah that’s good to hear that the film tackles those issues—perhaps I should watch it, then, even if it will be a miserable experience.

  8. Greta review Anna!

    I saw this a few months ago and was deeply moved and sickened by it. It’s amazing how prevalent this is in the military and that the US system just wants to ignore it. I was very pleased to see that following this movie’s premier, things got moving a bit to try and rectify how things are swept under the carpet.

    I was also so impressed at the number of women (and men) who were willing to come forward and tell their stories even though you could tell how hard it was for them to do so and at the risk of endangering themselves at the same time.

    Hopefully more documentaries can be made in the future about so many problematic topics and that them being made will help chance those policies!

    1. Thanks Rob! 🙂 The film is indeed quite sickening, but I also felt proud of the women and men who told their stories. It was so brave of them to be the ones to publicly speak out, not to mention put their faces on a documentary for the whole world to see. I totally agree – even though these issues are uncomfortable for most people to listen to and digest, it’s absolutely necessary that we’re able to talk about them, because that’s how a culture of violence against women can potentially be changed.

  9. […] watched this film with a group of friends directly after The Invisible War(2012) – and rightfully so. It provided the comic relief that we needed after watching one of […]

  10. I’d love to see this one, as tough as it might be, and definitely is. Wonderful review — I’m so glad you review important films!

    1. Thanks Elina! 🙂 It definitely is worth watching even though it’s tough. Definitely something that everyone should know more about!

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