Last year, more than 3,100 cases of sexual assault were reported in the United States Armed Forces and since it's estimated that only 14 percent of such crimes are reported, it's likely that more than 19,000 assaults took place.
The powerful documentary "The Invisible War" begins with statistics like that, exposing a disturbing pattern of criminal violence in the ranks and a shameful injustice among their superiors.
But what makes the movie so vital is how director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering illuminate those statistics to bring us the human face of rape victims in the military.
Ziering interviewed some 70 women, getting them to discuss the determination and patriotism that led them to join the military and how their dreams of serving their country were shattered by being sexually assaulted.
For Trina McDonald, it meant being drugged and raped repeatedly at a remote Navy station in the Aleutian Islands. For Hannah Sewell, it meant being raped by a fellow Navy recruit while still in training. For Ariana Klay, a graduate of Annapolis who served in Iraq, it meant being raped by a senior officer and by her civilian boss at the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. and then being told by Marine brass that she invited the assault by wearing the skirt that was part of her regulation uniform.
For these and other women, the sexual assault is only the start. Ziering and Dick, who examined sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church ("Twist of Faith") and hypocrisy in the movie ratings system ("This Film Is Not Yet Rated"), reveal how the assault victims are victimized a second time by the system. Victims must go up the chain of command, which means reporting to their superior who is often friends with the rapist, or sometimes even the actual rapist.
Furthermore, victims often face retaliation, including threats of more violence or accusations that they lied about their assault. An overarching atmosphere of sexist machismo keeps it all swept under the rug.
All of these issues are made crystal-clear with the case of Kori Cioca, a Coast Guard seaman who was raped by a commanding officer. She reported the incident up the chain of command and was told she would be court-martialed for lying if she went forward. Cioca's jaw was broken in the attack, and the movie shows her continued battles with the Department of Veterans Affairs to have her medical treatment covered. She also deals with post-traumatic stress, the incidence of which is higher for sexual-assault victims than for any other group in the military.
Dick intercuts these harrowing testimonials, and Cioca's day-to-day struggle with medical and psychological problems, with interviews with experts including some infuriatingly opaque interviews with Pentagon officials who uniformly underplay the problem.
"The Invisible War" is a wake-up call to all Americans, revealing injustice carried out by a military that is supposed to represent the best of America. It's also a document to the courage of the women and men willing to stand up for what's right.
'The Invisible War'
An eye-opening documentary about the harrowing frequency of sexual assault in America's military.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, July 20.
Rating • Not rated, but probably R for language and descriptions of sexual violence.
Running time • 97 minutes.