Director Kirby Dick's documentary "The Invisible War" has opened plenty of eyes to the issue of sexual assault of female soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces since its release in June. Thursday night, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was featured on "Rock Center With Brian Williams," where he discussed a change he's made to existing policy regarding the investigation of rape charges in the military. The "Invisible War" filmmakers responded Friday with both gratitude for Panetta's involvement and pressure for him to go further.
Since "The Invisible War" debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the film has received critical acclaim and prompted much discussion about the issue the filmmakers are trying to bring to Americans' attention. The film reveals an appalling fact: a female soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow solider than killed in the line of duty. The Department of Defense estimated that there were 19,300 service members sexually assaulted in 2010.
The documentary focuses on powerful emotional testimonies from rape victims as well as interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress. The result reveals the long hidden history of the issue as well as the soldiers' struggles to seek justice.
The following is a statement from Dick and "Invisible War" producer Amy Ziering:
“We applaud Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for his efforts to end the epidemic of sexual assaults within our Armed Forces as detailed in his interview with Natalie Morales on ROCK CENTER WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS tonight, September 27th. After seeing The Invisible War in April of this year, Secretary Panetta announced a change to the existing policy in which unit commanders decided if rape charges would be investigated and prosecuted. The change moved that decision higher up the chain of command. But much more still needs to be done.
Ever since The Invisible War won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and throughout its theatrical release over the summer, its successful ‘Million Eyes On The Issue’ Facebook screening that generated non-stop chatter and engagement from Military Sexual Trauma survivors, and continuing with its DVD/VOD release next month, our goal has been to bring attention to this appalling problem in the military and to reveal the damage it causes to our service members and society at large.
Our troops are in immediate peril and there needs to be decisive action to protect their well-being. As the film conclusively shows, the vast majority of sexual assaults in the military are committed by a small minority of service members who are serial perpetrators who carefully select, stalk, and assault their victims again and again. The DoD needs to initiate a proactive strategy to go after these ‘enemies within.’
We encourage Secretary Panetta and the DoD to take the following additional actions:
1. Move the decision to investigate and prosecute a sexual assault claim outside the victim's chain of command.
2. Create a sexual assault database within the Department of Defense that is required to share information with the Department of Justice civilian sexual offender database.
3. End the practice of diagnosing victims of sexual assault with personality disorders and then discharging them from the military without being eligible for benefits.
4. And finally, as The Invisible War conclusively shows, the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by a small minority of service members who are serial perpetrators. The DoD must aggressively investigate, prosecute and incarcerate these 'enemies within' who are debilitating our fighting force.”
"The Invisible War" is available now on iTunes and debuts on cable VOD and DVD October 23.