by Jessica Spohn
Recently, the documentary “The Invisible War” was screened at my University. It is a powerful new film released in June 2012 about Military Service Trauma (MST)—a topic that has long been kept hidden. Military Service Trauma is defined by U.S. Code 1720D of Title 38 as “trauma… resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training.” According to the film, a federal court decision in December of 2011 deemed MST an “occupational hazard” of military service. Rape and assault in the military happens, it happens often, it is not a new trend, and it needs to stop.
The documentary reveals shocking first-hand stories of the women and men who proudly served their country but are now affected by Military Service Trauma (MST). The primary focus of the documentary is on female rape survivors, but according to the film, 1% of males in the military (approximately 20,000 people) have experienced sexual abuse while serving. The film tells stories of many women that have experienced rape once or multiple times by those they considered brothers, their superiors, or other military personnel whom they did not know prior to the assault.
In 2010, there were 19,000 reported cases, and according to the Military Rape Crisis Center, there is an average of one rape every 4 hours in the military. One of the most powerful parts of the film was a section of rapid sequencing of
woman, after woman, after woman—for over two minutes—stating she had been raped. A father of one female survivor (who had been in the armed forces himself) told his daughter after she had been brutally raped and beaten, that she was still a virgin because “they took something from you that you didn’t give.”
The facts in the film are alarming, and include:
· 1/5 service members have been sexually assaulted, bringing the modern total to around 500,000
· 15% of incoming recruits have attempted rape in the civilian population, but are still accepted
· 33% of assaults are unreported because the rapist was a friend of who it would be reported to and
· In Fiscal Year 2012, of the 3,223 cases that weren’t thrown out and the men were convicted, 529 were
court martialed and only 175 did any jail time.
Less than 200 military-related rapists in 2012 did any jail time. This means that the rest continued to serve in the military or were released into society as a civilian. They were not convicted, they were not sentenced, and they were not added to the Sex Offender Registry warning others they were potential threats. Many perpetrators have multiple
victims and without any reprimand or rehabilitative services, there is a high chance they will continue this behavior.
One segment I found particularly disturbing was the segment on sexual assault ‘prevention’ education efforts the military have used in recent years. The educational videos reek of victim blaming and the posters use taglines such as
“my strength is for defending: ask her when she’s sober.” Personal conversations I have had with current and previous servicemen make me feel like the education could use serious revamping. In these conversations, the general consensus was that rape did not happen, sitting through all the trainings multiple times was boring and useless, and that if someone wanted to “get any” they could find it without force.
There is hope, however. Two days after viewing the Invisible War, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rescinded the right to prosecute from commanders, a major victory in the battle against victim blaming and fear of reporting and retaliation. For more information on the documentary and the movement, which includes where to find screenings in your area or assistance for yourself or someone you know that has been affected by MST, please visit http://www.notinvisible.org/