The Invisible War: A Film on Rape, Women and Combat (A Review)

June 23, 2012


Horrifying . . . devastating . . . infuriating . . . saddening.  These are the emotions I felt as I watched The Invisible War, a new film, written and directed by Kirby Dick, which opened nationally yesterday.  To be sure, The Invisible War isn’t your typical war story.  It’s a gripping docu-film that focuses on the “powerfully emotional stories of rape victims” within the U.S. military, and their “struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice.”  Shining a spotlight on a world largely defined by masculinity, combat, force, sex, and concealment, this film unveils the following:

  • 20% of women are assaulted while in the military
  • Only 8% of the assailants are prosecuted, with only 2% facing conviction
  • 80% of the victims do not report
  • 25% of women do not report rape because the person responsible for receiving the report is oft times also the rapist
  • 1% of men in the military, totaling 20,000, are victims of rape
  • 15% of incoming military recruits acknowledge that they have attempted or committed a rape prior to entering the service
  • 40% of homeless female veterans are victims of rape
  • Of the 3,223 cases that are actually prosecuted, only 175 of the assailants would serve jail time (all numbers are from the film or related press)
  • “The Veterans Administration spends approximately $10,880 on healthcare costs per military sexual assault survivor. Adjusting for inflation, this means that in 2011 alone, the VA spent almost $900 million on sexual assault‐related healthcare expenditures” (press packet).

The Invisible War paints a picture of injustice and sexism, and a culture of sexual violence that has reached epidemic proportions.  However, it does more than offer disheartening and infuriating statistics.  It provides a story, a story about women and men—those who are celebrated as heroes, who receive standing ovations at parades, whose service is lionized and celebrated over and over again—who have been raped while serving in the U.S. military.  Irrespective of yellow ribbons and holidays, it is a story that illuminates rape culture and the ways that victims are multiply victimized within a culture of warfare, camouflage (or cover-up), and sexual violence.

The filmmakers interview roughly 70 survivors of military rape, women and men, who in the face of victimization by their assailants, their military community, and countless others, have decided to fight back.  We learn the stories of women like Kori Cioca who was raped and physically beaten while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.  We hear how her assailant, who was also her commanding officer, didn’t just rape her, but also broke her jaw during the attack.  And, we learn how Cioca was reminded (over and over again) that her punishment for “lying” would be a court-martial, when attempting to report the assault to those in command.

The Invisible War elucidates a culture of rape and victimization as well as the continual cultivation of revictimization, wherein the military instigates an “in-house” society of violence—among comrades.  Some victims were even charged with adultery due to the assailant being married!  Moreover, of the five women from Marine Barracks Washington interviewed in the film, four were investigated and punished after reporting incidences of rape.  They were told to “suck it up,” unfairly disciplined professionally, threatened with prosecution, and demonized publicly.  And perhaps worse of all, they were often forced to face their assailants every step of the way.

From suicide attempts to physical pain, the film documents several consequences of rape, to include but not limited to rising costs, exacerbated by an “in-house” rape culture.  We see this with Cioca.  The physical pain resulting from her assault is endless.  Because of her broken jaw, Cioca continues to live on a liquid diet, she cannot go outside when it is cold because of pain, and probably most dispiriting, Cioca’s assault remains with her both physically and emotionally.  In fact, she often wakes up screaming.  The dual agony of severe discomfort and traumatic recollection are unceasing.  Unfortunately, this reality has been largely ignored by the VA, which refused to cover all of her medical expenses.

The power of The Invisible War rests with the elevation of the voices and experiences of the soldiers themselves and their families.  The consequences of sexual violence can be felt in the physical and emotional anguish expressed throughout the production.  However, though the film gives voice to victims of rape (and their families) within the military, therefore breaking the silence perpetuated by a complicit media, it misses a critical opportunity to expand the discussion to explore the effects and entwinement of militarism, patriarchy and misogyny in our broader socio-political context.  At times, The Invisible War seems to even downplay how patriarchy and American institutions/ideology(ies) actually sanction and give life to rape culture(s).  In short, in trying to spotlight the injustice facing men and women in the military, and the systematic camouflaging (pun intended) at each level in the chain of command, The Invisible War misses the opportunity to make some pretty significant connections.

A more efficient grasping of sexual violence within the military requires looking at its deployment of gendered language as well as the ways in which women are objectified within and without military culture.  It also demands that we look at “base women,” the relationship between U.S. operations overseas and prostitution, as well as the ways that sexism infects U.S. policies.  In addition, a more critical reading of sexual violence pushes us to explore the treatment of women within the U.S. military, particularly those serving in countries currently occupied by the U.S.
Continue reading @ The Invisible War: A Film on Rape, Women and Combat (A Review) | The Feminist Wire.

NewBlackMan: Bigger Than Rush: The Violence of Language and Language of Violence

Bigger Than Rush: The Violence of Language and Language of Violence




Bigger Than Rush: The Violence of Language and Language of Violence


by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan



Rush Limbaugh has once again demonstrated the entrenched misogyny of American culture.  Calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” among other things, is telling of both his own ideological foundation as well as society’s.  Unfortunately, the conversation and public outrage has often drifted away from the broader issues of violence, sexism, and misogyny, away from the broader attack on girls and women, instead focusing on “politics,” on removing Rush from the airwaves, on sponsors, and myriad other issues.  Increasingly, as Rush’s defenders cite double standards, whether in the form of societal acceptance of sexism within hip-hop or from liberal commentators, the debate is moving away from the issues of violence.  In focusing on only Rush (he is reprehensible), the politics, and in debating claims about hypocrisy, we are failing to see Rush and his comments as a symptom thereby obscuring the consequences of this language and its place within the broader war against young girls and women. 



Rush Limbaugh once again illustrated the reasons we need to “occupy” the airwaves.  As I wrote last month about Fox News and the soiling of already violent public discourse, the ubiquity of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia within the public square represents a major threat:



Racism, homophobia, immigrant bashing, misogyny and a general tone of violent rhetoric is almost commonplace at Fox.  Their motto of “Fair and Balance” seems apt at this point where they are fairly balance with comments of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.  The saturation has produced an almost normalizing effect whereupon progressives and society at large don’t even notice at this point, simply dismissing as Fox being Fox.  Yet, the consequence, the pollution of the public discourse, the assault on the epistemology of truth, and an overall souring of the public airwaves with daily morsels of disgusting, vile, and reprehensible rhetoric, illustrates that “Fox being Fox” poses a serious threat to Democracy, not too mention justice and equality. 



Limbaugh’s recent comments are yet another example of “Rush being Rush” and the level of violence that “occupies” America’s airwaves.   The demonization of women, the criminalization of blacks and Latinos, and the overall climate of racial/gender pathologizing are as commonplace as the scapegoating of hip-hop within today’s media.  This is evident in the language of everyday life.   Violent rhetoric has consequences evident in ubiquity of sexual violence, racial profiling, and job and housing discrimination.  They matter not only because the words themselves are violent, but also because they provide a window into a larger structural reality; words matter because they hurt and because the sources of meaning, the history embedded in our language, and our sense of imagination all emanate from this place. 


In a recent Daily Beast column, Kirsten Powers, citing examples of misogyny from the likes of Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, among others (not surprisingly as a Fox contributor she doesn’t cite any examples from her employer despite the following examples), argues that, “It’s time for some equal-opportunity accountability. Without it, the fight against media misogyny will continue to be perceived as a proxy war for the Democratic Party, not a fight for fair treatment of women in the public square.”


While not buying the narrative that seeks to directly or indirectly excuse Rush’s comments by noting the sexism of the “left” as evidence of both a double standard and a selective denunciation of sexism from the right (see here for example and here and here and here and here and here), any effort to transform public discourse must account for all forms of violence and the ways that racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia pollute and define media culture.  Rush’s comments are not an isolated incident (for him or talk radio) given his consistent demonization of Michelle Obama (#1, #2).  Yet, Rush’s comments must also be understood in relationship to the disgusting comments from Michael Moore (among others), who responded to Limbaugh with the following tweets:



I guess Romney knew that Rush, who made the mistake of saying what most Republicans think (women as sluts), had cost him the Nov. election.



Or after losing 6 sponsors yesterday Rush decided he loved $ more than he loved calling women prostitutes. Musta been a tough call, eh Rush?



Some sponsors don’t care how much Limbaugh apologizes: (I know – what were they doing there in the 1st place?)



RT @pattonoswalt Ayn Rand would be very pleased with how the free market bitch-slapped Limbaugh today.



Dear Rush: Please don’t stop! You say what the R candidates don’t. Voters must hear every day til Nov what Republicans truly think of women.



Don’t give up, Rush! It’ s a WAR ON WOMEN & you’re the Supreme Leader. Keep reminding voters how hate & violence drives the Republican agenda



Rush – As soon as u started losing the big $$ from your hate speech, you caved & obeyed the men who pay u. Who’s the prostitute now, bitch?



And BTW Rush, your vile & vicious attacks on me over the years – I wear them as a badge of honor. You are sad & sick & I’ve always pitied u.



The use of “bitch,” “bitch-slapped” and prostitute here, just as the sexualization of women from the likes of Bill Maher, is not a cover for the likes of Limbaugh.  Sure, the ideological underpinnings and the larger visions of society are different, but that doesn’t sanction the language nor does it limit the consequences.  Limbaugh’s comment read inside of a larger context points to the necessity of not simply removing Rush Limbaugh from the airwaves but transforming a society that needs and props up the Rushes in our mix. 

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Bigger Than Rush: The Violence of Language and Language of Violence.