The Invisible War

The Invisible War


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Like fellow Oscar-nominee The Gatekeepers, it is the power of the first-person testimony in Kirby Dick's blistering expose of rape in the US military that gives the documentary its power. While it's shocking to be told the statistic that 20 per cent of personnel are raped while serving, not to mention it is estimated that 80 per cent of assaults go unreported, couple this with victims' testimony and the outrageous fact that a court last year claimed rape was an "occupational hazard" of serving and few are likely to come away unmoved.

Dick has founded much of his career on exposing the hidden abuses of power - from abuse in the Catholic church in Twist Of Faith to the hypocrisy of closeted gay politicians who consistently vote for anti-gay legislation in Outrage - and here he keeps his focus in tight on the victims, although you come away wishing that it was the guilty who had been thrust into the spotlight. Huge credit must also be given to his producer Amy Ziering, who conducts the well-structured and compelling interviews that form the backbone of the film.

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Those deserving medals for personal courage include Kori Cioca - a US Coast Guard seaman, who is fighting to receive health benefits to pay for an horrendous jaw injury she sustained while resisting the sexual advances of a senior officer who would go on to rape her, Trina McDonald - who was drugged and repeatedly raped by Naval military police at a remote Alaskan posting and a host of other women and men who detail the endemic nature of of sexual harassment and worse in a military which seems to think reporting abuse is "crying over spilt milk". The sense of double abuse - once by the original perpetrator and then again by a system that seeks to protect its reputation before the wellbeing of its staff - is acute.

The picture that emerges is one of the military as a haven for serial rapists, where shame ends up being borne by entirely the wrong people and where the hierarchical structures in place for dealing with abuse often leave victims with nowhere to turn. Sometimes you wish that Dick would dig deeper beyond the policy recitations of the members of the establishment seen here, to try to get to the heart of the internal structures that create an environment where bad things thrive and to quiz those at the top about what can be done - but that is not this film. Inevitably, too, the film will have more relevance for a US audience, although it does leave you hoping that none of this is repeated in the UK services and wondering, if it was, would we hear about it? (To which end, you may find Labour MP Madeline Moon's investigations into this - which suggests there may be up to one report of sexual abuse per week in the UK forces - of interest).

That the Pentagon has, since the making of this documentary, revamped its rules to try to improve things - in particular, offering immediate transfers for those who allege abuse - is testimony to the power of Dick's work. Still, with incidents of rape in the military still double that for those in civilian life, you sense that though he may have won an important battle, there's a long fight ahead before the end of the war.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2013
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Probe into rape in the US military.
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Director: Kirby Dick

Year: 2012

Runtime: 99 minutes


Sundance 2012

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