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March 14, 2013

US Military Culture Of Rape & Sexual Assault Resistant To Change

The Invisible War (2012) movie poster

I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that in my humble opinion, documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick is one of the most important filmmakers of our time.

You might say --- what about Michael Moore? Admittedly, the populist filmmaker has had commercial success, and I’ve enjoyed his films because they were entertaining. Being entertained is great, but I also felt that a couple of his films were pure propaganda, and that’s not so great.

Kirby Dick tackled the clergy abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church with Twist of Faith (2005), and took on the super secret Motion Picture Association of America ratings in This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), and he revealed the hypocrisy in the Republican party with their closeted gay politicians in Outrage (2009), and exposed the systemic culture of sexual assault that’s running rampant in our military with The Invisible War (2012) [see note below].

I’ve seen most of Kirby Dick’s documentaries, and found them all to be compelling. Having said that - I’m not writing a critical assessment of his work - and this isn’t a film review.  I recently watched The Invisible War, and I highly recommend it, and dare anyone to watch it and not be moved by it. The film is shocking and thought provoking, and you should seek it out if you haven’t seen the film.

The Invisible War exposes the epidemic of rape and sexual assault that currently exists in the US military. There isn’t a branch of the military that’s immune to this problem, and it’s been a pox within our military culture that’s been largely ignored for over 25 years.

I grew up in a military family, and have the utmost respect and reverence for the men and women who serve our country. The systematic cover-ups and disgusting excuses that military brass employ to substantiate their failure to indict and prosecute the perpetrators of rape and sexual assault is deplorable and outrageous.

The US Senate Armed Services Committee held public hearings on this issue yesterday, and Senators heard from military victims and Department of Defense lawyers. The testimony of the victims was heartbreaking. The military attorneys offered lip service to the Senators, and trumpeted their "new" training programs that are allegedly more responsive to victims, despite their having failed to implement any substantive changes to indict and prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.

The problem in the macho world of the US military is the fact that a commanding officer (or convening authority) has the singular right to overturn the conviction or findings of a Criminal Investigative Service, because he or she thinks the conviction will have a negative effect on the discipline and order of a unit. If a commander’s friend is the accused, or the commander doesn’t like the victim, or worse, a conviction is not enforced.

To make matters worse, the military wants to keep this INSANE system in place.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), were all exasperated with the military yesterday. I applaud them all for demanding better of our military.



Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) embraces a victim of sexual assault in the US military

New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman summarized the day’s testimony pretty well.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was not shy in chairing her first subcommittee hearing as she laced into Pentagon officials Wednesday for failing to curb a rash of sexual assaults in the armed services.
New York’s junior senator, elected to her first full term in November, took the reins of the Senate Armed Services Committee's Personnel Subcommittee this year and has made it a priority to go after the problem of rampant rapes, sexual assaults and sexual harassment in the military.
Almost 2,500 cases of sexual violence were reported in 2011, but the Defense Department estimated that if all victims had actually come forward, that number would have been close to 19,000.
In emotional and sometimes harrowing testimony Wednesday, three victims who were raped while they were enlisted said the system is broken and that victims are discouraged from reporting a crime or ostracized if they do so. It was the first Senate hearing on the topic in nearly a decade.
“I appreciate the work you’re doing, but it’s not enough,” Gillibrand told senior attorneys for the Defense Department.
Each branch of the armed forces has its own judicial system, and the military’s commitment to maintaining a clear chain of command means senior officers who convene a court martial retain the power to make a final decision on whether to accept the military court’s verdict or impose one of their own.
Robert Taylor, the Pentagon’s acting general counsel, said the Defense Department sees the pervasive sexual violence as a problem for the military.
“Sexual assault in the military is not only an abhorrent crime that does enormous harm to the victim, but it is also a virulent attack on the discipline and good order on which military cohesion depends,” he testified.
But Gillibrand took issue with the military’s system, arguing that power to determine a verdict should not rest with one person.
“I don’t know how you can say having 19,000 sexual assault cases a year is discipline and order,” Gillibrand railed, raising her voice. “It is the exact opposite of discipline and order.”
This is a problem that affects men and women, as men are assaulted too.

This macho military culture and the cover-ups have got to stop.

I was heartened to learn while watching the testimony that this issue is bipartisan, with Republicans and Democrats equally determined to solve this problem.

Discipline and order is sorely lacking in our military, and until they prosecute the perpetrators in a uniform manner, and hold these criminals to the same punitive standards of their civilian counterparts, it will be impossible to recruit and retain the best and the brightest.

The military has to do better, and we’ll keep watching.

The invisible war is now visible thanks to Kirby Dick, and I’m thankful that the US Senate is listening.



[Note: The Invisible War (2012) is currently available to stream on Netflix as part of a streaming subscription. You can also rent or purchase the film via Amazon or Vudu streaming services.]





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