US Service Members Sexually Assault a Fellow Soldier 25 Times a Day, Every Day of the Year
This past Memorial Day weekend I checked in with SIFF and attended a screening Saturday night of Kirby Dick’s latest documentary “The Invisible War” which won the 2012 Sundance Audience Award. I wanted to write about it immediately but was so enraged when I walked out of the theater that I thought, better to cool off and let the poison work its way out of my system first. Yesterday I met friends for coffee and still couldn’t talk about the film without pangs on anger punctuating every sentence so I figured I’d wait until today to vent. Still angry. Heart still racing. Here goes anyhow.
Let me back up a few steps first. As you may have read, I’m not a fan of bullies. I abhor bullying in a school setting and I consider bullies in the workplace pathetic and contemptible. Football, boxing and the occasional Quentin Tarantino film notwithstanding, I’m deeply troubled by violence of any kind whether perpetrated against humans or animals. (I’m not a vegan but I’d be happy to have that discussion some other day.)
Among the many ways that so-called human beings inflict pain and psychological trauma on each other, rape, to me, is the most vile. There are countless reasons why a person might commit larceny but there’s only a single reason one rapes: an irresistible and incurable compulsion to control, humiliate and torment.
As the Catholic church has demonstrated so convincingly over the past several decades, sexual predators exist in every strata of society and as victims and their families are painfully aware, perpetrators are often among the inner circle. They’re neighbors, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and in the worst circumstances, they’re family.
As someone points out in “The Invisible War,” when the military is at its best, at it’s most optimal, it’s a single unit focused on a clearly defined set of goals with every member a valued and nurtured link in the chain. A family.
According to the film and backed up by the Department of Defense’s own statistics, America’s military family is the family most infected and infested by rape in the nation. A shocking number of women – and men – are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted every year in the military. According to the D.O.D., 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in 2010, a percentage point lower than were perpetrated in 2011. The film makes clear that the military’s attitude toward sexual assault is overwhelmingly to ‘just suck it up’ so it’s no surprise (or secret) that the vast majority of these incidents go unreported. Besides the military’s de facto acceptance of rape and sexual assault within its ranks, one consistent reason that so many attacks go unreported is the fact that often, the perpetrators are the victim’s next in command. Or they’re the perpetrator’s best friend and drinking buddy.
The system is so rigged, so consciously and appallingly blind to this epidemic of violence that it makes one wonder whether it’s time to put aside our otherwise solemn duty to honor the troops until they clean house and with extreme prejudice. For instance, in 2011, fewer than half of sexual assault cases that were reported were considered “actionable” – a decrease of 22% from 2010 – and fewer than 8% of “actionable” cases went to trial. In an estimated 10% of cases that did go to trial, the accused were allowed to quit the military rather than face court martial which means they’re raping and sexually assaulting your family now.
The film has its share of well-meaning politicians who, since the Tailhook scandal, have held hearings, grandstanded, wrung their hands and promised to change things. Not surprisingly, they’ve all failed miserably. They are cowards.
Rape is worse than death. Many rape victims yearn for the relief of death. Over 2,800 people died on 9/11 which precipitated two wars that so far have resulted in the deaths of over 6,400 American troops. According to the film, 500,000 American service men and women have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by their fellow soldiers. Close to 20,000 just last year. Where’s the war against rape and sexual assault in the military?
Like many of us since 2001, I’ve honored our men and women in uniform. I’ve bought them drinks and meals and I’ve thanked them for their service. My father earned a Purple Heart during the Battle of the Bulge and that medal is something I’ve been proud of ever since I can remember. This Memorial Day weekend, though, as I watched reports of Fleet Week in New York City and flags being placed on graves at Arlington Cemetery and President Obama laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, my thoughts were not of honor. Instead, they were polluted by thoughts of the abject terror felt by thousands of American soldiers every year as their ‘brothers’ grab them by the throat, invade their bodies and their minds and leave them panting for air and in lasting desperation for a way back to normal.
Every US service member is aware of the plague of rape and sexual assault among their ranks and an alarming number of them are, themselves, the perpetrators. These men are known to the brass and they’re known to their fellow soldiers yet the reign of terror – and it’s nothing less than that – goes on unabated. Year in, year out. And you know what? Once the rapists are discharged, whether honorably or otherwise, they become our rapists. Our sexual predators.
So next time you run into a service member on the street, or if you have a service member in your family, once you’ve clapped them on the back and shaken their hand and thanked them for helping end suffering in far flung corners of the world, ask them what they’ve done to end the suffering in their own barracks. Urge them to consider volunteering for a search and destroy mission to ferret out and eliminate the terrorists within their own unit. Ask them why it’s wrong for Sudanese and Kenyans and Ugandans to rape their women but it’s OK for a Sergeant in the US military to rape or sodomize a recruit.
“The Invisible War” presents all this and much more far better than I ever could here. In fact, it’s a masterfully shot and constructed film that keeps style appropriately far from substance. Not always easy business for a filmmaker. My only problem with the film is that Dick, no doubt in concert with the incredibly brave women – and one man – who were interviewed for the film and are helping promote it, has chosen to shield the rapists whose crimes are discussed. None of their names are disclosed in spite of the fact that one of them was actually promoted in the course of his investigation and continues to serve to this day. At the Q&A following the screening I volunteered to host a site outing these animals but my offer was not accepted. I make the offer again here.
Light this fire for the 500,000.