The outrage of 'The Invisible War'

June 29, 2012

Milos Stehlik

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The Invisible War is a compelling film that will leave you angry and outraged. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary touches on a crisis they say the military's macho, male power structure pretends doesn’t exist: the staggering number of women (and some men) in America's armed forces who are sexually assaulted every year. According to the film, over 15,000 rapes are committed in the military each year, of which only 20 percent are reported.

It’s a multidimensional scandal that continues to unfold even now. The Associated Press reported just Thursday that the Air Force has identified at least 31 female trainees who suffered at the hands of their instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas:

Six of the 12 instructors under investigation for misconduct face charges ranging from rape to adultery. A senior Air Force commander said nine of those instructors were in the same squadron, briefing reporters at the Pentagon at the same time that one of the accused appeared in a Lackland courtroom.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Craig LeBlanc, who is charged with aggravated assault and obstruction of justice, allegedly bragged about "getting laid" by a trainee in a supply closet, one of his fellow airmen testified at an evidentiary hearing Thursday.

"I was speechless. I didn't understand," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Beck, according to the San Antonio Express-News. . . .

Lackland is where every American airman reports for basic training — about 35,000 a year. About one in five are female, pushed through eight weeks of basic training by a flight of instructors that are about 90 percent male.

As the allegations of misconduct mounted, the Air Force in March took the almost unprecedented step of shutting down training for an entire day and interviewing about 5,900 trainees. Rice said Thursday the Air Force received "very little" negative comments about instructors.

Rice said that to his knowledge, all of the 31 female victims identified by investigators are still in the Air Force.

Although the Air Force has taken steps to investigate this scandal and bring these particular perpetrators to justice, The Invisible War demonstrates a broader state of denial on the part of those in power: They refuse to admit that sexual predators in the military often go undiscovered and unpunished.

Friday on Worldview: Director Kirby Dick discusses his film. 

The most outrageous moments in the film come when Dr. Kaye Whitley, former director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) at the Department of Defense, says her new campaign to combat the epidemic of rape in the U.S. Armed Forces. . . is to use social media. Her focus is “prevention” — which meant she led an awareness campaign that put up posters. Her successor, Major Gen. Mary Kay Hertog, has never spoken to a rape victim after several months on the job.

Dick and Ziering, armed with the Department of Defense’s own statistics, weave a powerful and poignant narrative of trust and betrayal, sexual violence, psychological trauma and difficulty in getting help. As the affecting testimonies of the brave women (and one man) interviewed show, sexual assault was almost a “prequel” to harassment, humiliation – even retaliatory disciplinary action – when they reported it.

The clearly wounded victims demonstrate astonishing courage in telling their stories on camera. Let’s hope their brave testimony – and the filmmakers’ efforts – won’t have been for naught.