I recently watched the film documentary, The Invisible War, which is about the extent of sexual assault in the US Military and the subsequent cover-ups, punishment of victims instead of perpetrators, the low rate of punishment for perpetrators and the overall difficulty in obtaining any form of justice. It has won awards and been claimed to be the best documentary of 2012.
The extent of sexual assault in the US military is itself shocking and affects both men and women. But a number of the victims reported that worse than the actual rape or abuse were the difficulties they encountered afterwards and the lack of recourse to obtaining justice. As if being raped was not bad enough, they were sometimes punished for making an allegation of rape. Instead of an investigation into the rape, an investigation would be launched about them making the allegation!
In the military rape and sexual abuse investigations are handled within the military ranks and do not involve external police or investigators. Thus in some cases the person to whom the victims were supposed to report the crime to, was the actual perpetrator of the crime – so they had nowhere to go to. In other cases, it was a good friend of the rapist so again they felt unlikely to obtain true justice. For those who did manage to complain and start an investigation, only a tiny proportion ended up in significant consequences for the rapist. Thus there was no true deterrent for such behaviour as it was quite clear that most would get away with it time and time again.
The film focused predominantly on the stories of women, but numerically there are more men abused/sodomised etc in the army than women due to the greater numbers of men in the military overall. It was pointed out that these attacks are not by gay men on men but heterosexual men who are seeking power and control. All of those who were raped had loved their job in the military and were proud to serve their country and worked hard and were devastated to have to leave following the abuses they experienced and compounded their suffering even more.
A culture of widespread sexual assault and harassment was uncovered at the so called prestigious Marine Barracks Washington where the norm was to tolerate rapists and silence survivors. As is often the case regarding rape and sexual assaults, the attacks were not performed by strangers but men who were known to the women, men they worked and trained with, men they considered their brothers – working together for the good of their country. Men who after the rape, they were expected to carry on working alongside them.
It was very clear that the culture in the military was one that led to protection of one’s own, internal cover-ups, sweeping under the carpet, dismissive attitudes to those who brought such complaints, rife misogyny and the belief that the women should just ‘suck it up’ and carry on.
One of the most shocking things revealed in the film was the conclusion of a court of law regarding a court case that was taken by a number of the victims who felt that the current military system did not adequately protect them and deprived them of their constitutional rights. The court apparently dismissed the case on the basis that rape is ‘an occupational hazard’ for those in the military! The gasps of disbelief were audible in the cinema. How is it possible in this day and age for a court of law to state something that is so inherently wrong? Being shot or killed is an occupational hazard of the military and even if one takes the view that rape by the enemy is an occupational hazard, in no way does that make rape by one’s own military peers and leaders an occupational hazard. It is so, so wrong. It unfortunately only suggests that the degree of misogyny in the court is on a par with that in the military.
Furthermore, the focus of rape prevention in the military and other cases seems to be aimed at what women can do. Eg talking about how they dress, or that they should go out with a buddy etc as if those were the main reasons why women got raped and with no action taken to address the perpetrators of these crimes. There is no system in place to teach men not to rape, that it is wrong to rape and that they are responsible for rape not the women or the way they dress.
Whilst this has only been uncovered recently, there is little doubt that these crimes will have been going on for many, many years but the extent of the shame, the culture of silence and cover-up ensured that it remained invisible to the outer world. It takes courage to speak up, to break the silence and say ‘no’, ‘this is not right’ especially when one’s career is on the line or lost as a consequence. All who speak up against such abuses and crimes are to be commended for doing so – for it is only by doing so that true change can be effected. Silence and submission only serves to perpetuate the status quo, to keep the culture of rape and abuse alive and kicking, to keep those who are all too willing to abuse their power and authority in power and authority. The same phenomenon has been observed in the Catholic church. Therefore it is important to continue to speak up regarding all types of abuse, to expose them and call them out such that people will know that that sort of behaviour is not tolerated.
Following the release of this film, a number of changes have been made to how sexual abuse allegations are handled in the military, action has been taken to improve the response to such allegations and to prevent professional retaliation against assault survivors.
Have you seen the film The Invisible War? Feel free to share your thoughts on it or anything else that this blog post has arisen for you.