Although many different organizations have pulled together to advertise the persistent and never ending problem of rape in the military, it is fair to say that the architects behind The Invisible War, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, have placed Military Sexual Assault front and center.
Their film highlights the stories of several victims of sexual assault. The victims are mainly women - by percentages, women are more likely to be attacked though men are definitely targeted as well. The stories are heartbreaking and hard to listen to. You will hear from many of the victim's family members as well. The brave folks that speak out on the screen deserve to be listened to. Their willingness to take a stand has made it much easier for other victims to stand up, speak out, and seek justice.
The numbers of reported sexual assaults in the military are increasing - I for one believe this isn't because more assaults are happening but because more are being reported. Victims believe the system is finally paying attention in a way that is very different than pre-Invisible War.
First, senior brass and commanders in the field are finally owning up to the fact that all sexual assaults need to be taken seriously. In fact, the Commander in Chief himself spoke out about the issue this week:
And for those who are in uniform who have experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their Commander-In-Chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted.
And anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are. This is not what the U.S. military is about. And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day.
So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this. I have communicated this to the Secretary of Defense. We're going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in areas of authority, and I expect consequences.
So I don't want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way. If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable -- prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable.
In the past, and as The Invisible War shows, the system allowed commanders to pretend that rape cases weren't really rape. They were more likely to be "misunderstandings" - he said, she said stories that could be called date rape if you will. Or, they were more likely to be 'victims' trying to get back at leadership. Yes, we don't often see someone of lower rank being accused of raping someone of higher rank. The Invisible War has called attention to the victim blaming that was going on at the highest levels, whether it was of the date rape variety or the vengeful victim variety.
Second, leadership at the most senior levels has been called to task by our elected officials. Senator Claire McCaskill has been especially outspoken and sponsored legislation to change the way in which sexual assault cases are handled in the military. There is a strong movement to remove the decision making from military command to a civilian authority. Of course, commanders don't want to see this happen so they feel forced to show that they can truly manage these cases without prejudice.
Third, the media is paying attention. The least hint of impropriety and the cameras come out. The military makes a mistake, like sending a convicted rapist with an overturned conviction to a military base where the victim's family lives, and the press covers the story. The story resonates with the public and more questions are asked and more people call their members of Congress to find out what in the hell is going on. If this continues to happen, the press will continue to pay attention. If we care, they will care.
We're still a long way from zero tolerance being the real deal. This week, front pager Laura Clawson wrote the failures of top generals, including General Mark Welsh. The general came into his new position as Chief of Staff of the Air Force saying all the right things about preventing sexual assault. Then last week at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he had this to say:
Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, appeared to blame broader society, noting that 20% of women report they had been sexually assaulted "before they came into the military."Sexual freedom and sexual assault are two very different things and until our senior leaders understand that concept, maybe they aren't well prepared to win the war against rape in our military.
"So they come in from a society where this occurs," he said. "Some of it is the hookup mentality of junior high even and high school students now, which my children can tell you about from watching their friends and being frustrated by it."
You can help. If you haven't seen The Invisible War, watch it tomorrow for free via [i]DEPENDENT LENS. If you're a member of Netflix, it's available on instant streaming right now. Watching the film gives you greater credibility when you recommend that others watch the film. Because that's what will happen - like me, I bet you become incensed and you'll share your anger and the film via Facebook, Twitter, and email. You'll be willing to ask family and friends to take the time to do a difficult thing - watch the film and help stop rape in the US. Let's be honest. This really isn't just about rape in the military - it's about rape in our society. The military is just a microcosm where rapists feel more comfortable to plant themselves and to lie in wait for their next victim.