The Invisible War

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







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  1. Jalilah
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    Good Morning,
    Jeanette sent me the look to see if I could offer any feedback. I will do my best.
    It’s alarming to know buy your statistics are pretty close; however, believe it or not, MST affects more men than what you know or think. Men wont go to anyone though due to embarracement and shame. I am currently in Egypt, and we did the new program started called SHARP training (Sexual Harrassment Abuse Rape Prevention) and there was a case where a male was rape by another male. It was not penile penetration though, they used an object. I hate to say this but when it comes to this topic, many times they focus on it just being the woman who is victimized.
    On another note, here is just my personal view and take of things from what I have seen. Those who do go to file a rape claim and have the courage, and are females are mistreated by the one taking their case. Many times if you just watch careful and see the words they use, it makes the victim seem like they were “asking for it” or “drawing attention to themselves”. Instead of trying to help the situation many times you see that the victim starts to believe and think they did something to have had this happen to them. Since more than likely it is someone they know, the feeling of them sending the “wrong” message led to their rape, and it could be just that they said “hi” or “good morning”, but those things itself go into question making victims feel it was their fault. There are so many cases that wont go into record because the victim will not continue the process or feel intimidated.
    I don’t know if this helps, I wish I had more time to respond. I am currently at work and do not have internet access anywhere else at this point.

    Thank you.

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