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The Invisible War

Sunday 18 May 2014, by Coco Green

’The Invisible War’ is less about a secret war that rape victims are fighting in the military than a series of public and private battles to fix a broken system. Well, broken for the victims of rape, not so much for the rapists who remain invisible to the criminal justice system.

Audiences will readily identify the usual drill that plays out when rape is reported: What were you wearing? What were you doing? But in the context of the US military other interesting questions are raised, such as, ’Do you have a boyfriend or husband?’. A key element of the uniqueness of military rape is its particular psychological impact. How do you cope with being a trained soldier yet unable to defend your own body? Or, worse, how do you see yourself after your band of brothers and sisters turns against you in a way that is so violent, personal and almost incestuous, given the familial relations established. It’s no surprise that the repercussions of reporting rape, such as losing rank, benefits and being charged with adultery (if either the rapist or victim is married), keeps 80% of victims silent about the crime. The impact of victim’s silence within this particular, closed-system results in higher incidents of substance misuse, depression and suicide.

Personally, I am against militarism; as a college advisor at a low-income school in Oakland, CA, I would dissuade my kids from joining the armed forces, begging them to use the homeless vets as an indicator of how much the military actually values their lives. But just like some of the women in the film, my kids were faced with limited options. However after the first seven minutes of ’The Invisible War’ I was also ready to sign up. The US military offers travel, opportunities for public and social service, professional career tracks, camaraderie—all to a kick-ass soundtrack with convincing talking-heads. Whilst these opportunities are not exclusive to the armed forces, its telling that these women would look to the military to provide them. Here we find stories of womens’ social and economic positions, as well as limited institutions in which women can receive specialised and advanced education where they can advance professionally and the shrinking pools of good jobs and college scholarships.

Going back to my kids in Oakland, who were exclusively Black and Latino, I couldn’t help but notice their absence in the film (men also had a notably smaller screen time). But the omission of any in-depth stories from Black or Latina veterans seemed strategic: the filmmakers needed white women to represent an accomplished, military professional type in order to convincingly illustrate the contradictions of the armed forces. This reliance on the greater credibility given to testimonies from white professionals raises questions about our cultural understanding of sexual availability. Statistics on age, race, rank and marital status and their international comparisons were unfortunately absent. This analysis is especially crucial given that in the US media Black and Latina women are presented as wantan and fast.

In conclusion ’The Invisible War’ is eye-opening, to say the least. The US justice system concluded that in the military, rape is an occupational hazard. Unfortunately we can apply this conclusion to women in the civilian world as well.

Dir: Kirby Dick, 2012


The Invisible War is showing at the Lexi Cinema, May 23rd, 8.45pm

Dochouse presents: THE INVISIBLE WAR + Panel Discussion
Friday 23rd May | 8:45pm | Lexi Cinema | £7 (£5 conc)
Tickets and more information: http://www.dochouse.org/film-screening/The-Invisible-War—Panel-Discussion/388

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