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June 19, 2012

Film Review: The Invisible War

Our servicemen and women work hard to protect us, but how well do they protect each other? After watching The Invisible War, no individual will be able to look at the US military in the same light again.

The film is an investigative documentary that uncovers the epidemic of rape in the US military. Painful personal stories are shared by servicewomen and men who joined the military proudly, either to fulfill a family legacy or a personal call of duty, only to be left behind when attacked by their co-servicemen or supervisors.

The main subject of the documentary is Kori Cioca, a former US Coast Guard Seaman, who was brutally attacked and raped by her supervisor, leaving her with a broken jaw. As a result of the attack, she ended her service before the required term and now is unable to receive the medical care she needs from Veterans Affairs.

Stories are shared from all branches of the military. Ariana Klay, a Marine who served in Iraq, was raped by a senior officer. Trina McDonald was drugged and raped repeatedly while serving in a remote naval station in Alaska. Victims suffer a lifetime of physical and mental effects of their attacks, including higher cases of post traumatic stress disorder than soldiers in combat.

Statistically, it is more likely that a woman serving in active duty in a war zone will be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. Nearly 20% of women and 1% of men serving have been sexually assaulted. As each account is relayed, a pattern of deliberate cover-up and missing evidence arises. The military does not have access to the impartial courts that civilians have access to. They must report to their superior officers who are often the perpetrators or friends of the attackers. Furthermore, many of the victims are punished with charges of adultery or threatened with a loss of career if they report the incidents.

The documentary includes interviews with the current and former directors of the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault and Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) and other ranking personnel officers. Those interviews reveal either a total misunderstanding or naïveté with regard to sexual assault. Their best idea for a sexual assault prevention campaign was based around the slogan “Wait until she’s sober.”

It is difficult to believe that in the present day something as heinous and prevalent as sexual assault within the armed forces is unknown to the public. The Invisible War is the first feature documentary on the subject and even broke the story about sexual assault cover-ups at the prestigious Marine Barracks Washington, which was covered by all major networks after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January.

Oscar- and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Twist of Faith) and producing partner Amy Ziering (Outrage) have created a very powerful film that gets to the heart of the issue, talks to both sides, and calls for positive change. The filmmakers, who have a reputation for unique methods to get at the story, used social media to find their interview subjects because the military embargoes interviews with active duty soldiers. Though the film feels like an extended episode of Dateline at some parts, the emotional stories by the very open interview subjects are extremely engaging.


The Invisible War should be required viewing for every person currently serving and for all new recruits so the veil of secrecy is lifted. As for civilians, this film is an eye opener that all will benefit from watching.


Limité Rating: 4/5

Director: Kirby Dick

Cast: Kori Cioca, Ariana Klay, Trina McDonald

Runtime:  97 min.

Release Date: June 22 (New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, San Francisco, Boston; with other cities to follow)

posted by: Stephanie Dawson
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