Starring Kori Cioca, Jessica Hinves, Robin Lynne Lafayette, Ariana Klay, Trina McDonald, Elle Helmer, Hannah Sewell, Rob McDonald
Directed by Kirby Dick
A good documentary will try to educate its viewers about a certain topic, or seek to raise awareness about an issue that’s flying under most people’s radars. An excellent documentary will do both, and The Invisible War is that documentary. I went into The Invisible War with an idea that rape in the military existed, but I had no real knowledge of how widespread it is, or how the military judicial system works (or doesn’t work). I came out knowing a lot more about these issues, and in terms of raising awareness, I don’t know that I’ve ever been more angry while watching a documentary. The idea that servicewoman (and men) are subjected to such fucked up treatment is absolutely infuriating, and the fact that their cries for help go largely unanswered, sometimes resulting in the victims being persecuted again by the system, is arguably worse than the original crime.
The military’s justice system is much like the Catholic church’s; they have their own system in place to combat crime and deal with it (or not deal with it) however they see fit. Crimes that happen within the military are handled solely by the military, so instead of an impartial investigative organization overseeing everything, oftentimes the perpetrators themselves or their close friends are the ones in power over the investigation. This creates an extremely hostile environment for reporting crimes of this nature. In the months following the release of the film, action has been taken to change how the military handles these crimes, which is a great step in the right direction, but there is always more to be done.
One of the most shocking revelations of the film was not a horrific story of rape, or a callous tale of how a commander told a young recruit that they should just suck it up and move on. Every victim’s story was heartbreaking and hard to listen to, but the thing that shocked me the most was the military’s preventive posters, specifically the tagline, “Ask her when she’s sober.” The then-current director of the program states how the preventive methods are working and how they’re a real positive. Sorry, but a poster that says, “Ask her when she’s sober” isn’t helping anything. Not only is it ridiculous, the statement places the blame on the victim. Don’t worry about your own sobriety at all, just ask her when she’s sober because when you ask when she isn’t sober, she’s totally a slut and she’ll do whatever you say only to regret it in the morning and then we’ve gotta do all kinds of paperwork to save your ass from a dishonorable discharge. So just ask her when she’s sober, it makes our job easier. What total bullshit.
This fact is hammered home once again when a military training video is shown, involving a women who is harassed and chased around a barracks. She runs into a pair of men, but when she tells them the situation their first response isn’t, “How can we help?” or “Who did this to you?”, it’s “Why are you wandering around alone, without a buddy?” So basically: it’s your fault someone tried to rape you because you didn’t walk around with a chaperone at all times. Any organization that knowingly allows this kind of shit to happen, and produces subliminally sexist training videos that do nothing more than tell women they’re at fault, is flawed right down to its core.
The Invisible War is an important movie, and one that could help to save the lives of young women and men who enter the military with hopes and dreams of serving their country, only to leave with a shattered life and no support channels. Change is happening, but it is never enough. Wherever assholes have power, they will exert it over the weak, and the military is designed to specifically attract and breed aggressive, asshole people. Ideally, a soldier should hold themselves to a higher standard, but unfortunately that just isn’t always the case.
In terms of filmmaking, The Invisible War is extremely well put together. There were a couple of aspects that I felt could have been improved upon, but delving into these or even mentioning them is a moot point with this film. The sheer power of the information and the victims’ struggles overrides any petty claims from an armchair critic. If you value your country in any meaningful way, and you wish to see it move forward from long-held bullshit practices, then The Invisible War is one of the most important awareness-raising documentaries of our times.