- Grove City, Pennsylvania

April 26, 2013

Survivors' stories

Film focuses on military rape problem

By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
Allied News

SLIPPERY ROCK — Rape and sexual assault among U.S. military members have become an epidemic, and director Kirby Dick felt the need to share the survivors' stories with the world in a documentary that continues to gain attention.

"We should protect the people who are protecting us," Dick told a small crowd Monday night at Slippery Rock University of his hope to make everyone aware of the issue.

He showed his film "The Invisible War" and his visit was sponsored by the SRU Women's Center. The documentary, which has been called a "groundbreaking investigation," was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award and won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

The crowd gasped with shock and disgust during the film in reaction to survivors' stories from men and women and their struggles with bringing their attackers to justice.

"I would tell my daughter not to join the military," one woman said, Dick later pointing out the film is not meant to discourage women from enlisting.

Dr. Kaye Whitley, former director of the Defense Department's Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, said in the film her advice for reducing the risk of sexual assault in the military was for women to use the "buddy system" and that she couldn't think of any other examples.

Some assaults in the military go unreported because the authority figure to report to and the attacker were the same person.

One victim said she can't believe how her life has been turned up-side-down while the experience has had no impact on her attacker.

The survivors interviewed said they hope their stories reach other victims but also the attackers.

"Then it can't be a secret anymore," one woman said in the film, which noted hundreds of thousands of service members have been assaulted over the last few decades.

A jaw-dropping moment in the film came toward the end, when the audience learned a class-action lawsuit filed by some survivors against the Pentagon was dismissed by the courts in 2011 because rape is considered an occupational hazard of serving in the military.

Many of the assailants referenced in the documentary were never charged or prosecuted, and some of them were even promoted, while the victims were often blamed or reprimanded.

The documentary also followed Kori Cioca, who was raped while serving as a seaman in the Coast Guard. The rapist smashed her jaw, a disability claim denied by the Veterans Administration.

Others in the film said women are great soldiers our country can't afford to lose, and this problem keeps the U.S. military from being "great."

This is not just a military problem; many of those attackers will repeat their crimes in civilian settings.

"Let them know they are not invisible" are the closing lines of the film, which invites people to visit

Dick discussed the film with the crowd, saying Congress has some policy changes in the works that will hopefully put better procedures in place for handling military rape cases.

"It has become the reference point for this issue in Congress and the military," he said of the documentary, which was produced by Amy Ziering.

There's now more education about the victim-blaming issue and how this serious problem has been a disturbing secret for too long.

"I knew there was a real reason to make this film," he said, referring to how he's given the survivors a voice.

The dismissed Pentagon lawsuit is being appealed, continuing to keep the focus on the survivors' cases, and Dick urges the public to talk to their local legislators about supporting the rights of those men and women.

"This is our responsibility - to protect everyone," he said, also suggesting people write to President Barack Obama.

He also stressed rape in the military is not just a woman's issue. Men are sexually assaulted, too, but "it's much more shameful," Dick said. He contacted more than 100 survivors and four men agreed to be filmed.

He's realized a military setting can be the "perfect storm situation" for assault because the armed forces can attract aggressive people, but it also draws in those who have been abused.

In most military assaults, the attacker is higher ranking than the victim. Compared to civilian life, it's harder in the military to refuse a direct order from your superior to show up at a certain place and time, Dick said.

Perhaps in 30 years, sexual assault in the military will be on the decline because of the discussions taking place now, and that includes the talks Dick has with crowds all over the country.

"It takes this entire country to push this institution of change," he said. "I'm still learning things from you."

High-ranking military officials and members of Congress were also in the film, which catalogs the conditions that have protected perpetrators and allowed this epidemic to continue, according to a news release issued by the Women's Center.

The film recounts the 1991 Tailhook Association meetings, the 1996 Aberdeen Proving Ground incidents and the 2003 scandal at the Air Force Academy.

Dick also directed "Outrage," which was nominated for an Emmy and released by Magnolia Pictures. It's an indictment of the hypocrisy of powerful, closeted politicians and the political and media institutions that protect them.

In 2006, he directed "This Film is Not Yet Rated," released by IFC Films, as a breakthrough investigation of the highly secretive Motion Picture Association of America film ratings system. The film was credited for changes in the way MPAA rates films.

He also directed "Twist of Faith," a powerful story of a man confronting the trauma of his past sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. It was produced for HBO and received a 2004 Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

Dick directed "Derrida," a portrait of the world-renowned French philosopher Jacques Derrida, which won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival; and the acclaimed "Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist," which won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Published April. 13, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.