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November 26, 2012

No honor in military sex assaults

By Amanda Duncan

To sensitize the student body of Cleveland State on the growing problem of sexual assaults inside the military, the Military Women’s Association and Student Veteran’s Association organized the screening of the documentary “The Invisible War.”

The documentary was made by Kirby Dick, a noted documentary filmmaker who won an Oscar for his film “Twist of Faith” in 2005 and was nominated for an Emmy.

“The Invisible War” is an investigative documentary that explores the epidemic of rapes in the military.

It won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

According to public records, 3,198 new incidents of rape and sexual assaults were reported in the military in 2010.

Overall, it is estimated that the number of assaults is closer to 19,000 as most of these never get reported. In the cases that are reported, a very small fraction result in conviction.

In recent years only 244 convictions have taken place.

The documentary uses government statistics of assault numbers, interviews with military personnel, lawmakers and advocates around the stories of veterans who have survived sexual assault to tell a compelling story and expose the growing epidemic of sexual assaults inside the military.

In the film, veterans Kori Cioca, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard, former Marine Ariana Klay, Naval veteran Trina McDonald and U.S. Navy Seaman Recruit Hannah Sewell, shared their life stories before, during and after being assaulted.

Laura Bliesner, President of the Women’s Association, posed a question to the audience before the screening by asking how many people would go into a career with rape as an occupational hazard. She also warned that the film was a hard view for some and that there were counselors on hand if anyone wanted to talk.

Bliesner wanted people to feel that the audience could come early or come late so they capture some of the film, even if students couldn’t stay for the entire screening. The documentary does show the military is failing to do enough to address the problem.

“The biggest problem is they don’t hold people accountable, and the person that the victim is reporting to is friends or buddies with the accused rapist,” said Bliesner, echoing the sentiments of the documentary.

The problem isn’t strictly about attacks on women. Even male veterans face the threat from sexual predators in the military.

According to the Department of Defense, 1 percent of men in the military — nearly 20,000 men — were reportedly sexually assaulted in 2009.

The documentary also shows the past scandals that brought this issue to light like the 1991 Navy Tailhook scandal, the 1996 Army Aberdeen scandal and the 2003 Air Force scandal.

Cleveland State student and former Army Sergeant Nicole Smith was at both screenings to answer questions audience members had.

“I did have to leave the room a couple of times,” Smith said. “It was hard for me to watch because I have seen this happen to fellow soldiers.”

When asked about her advice to anyone thinking of joining the military, Smith said, “It was the best six years of my life, but be careful and always have a female buddy.”

Smith and veterans in the documentary feel that the power needs to be taken away from commanders in sexual assault cases.

As part of the documentary, there is a grassroots movement called “Not Invisible” which is a non-partisan coalition working to end sexual assault within the U.S. military and to help survivors of military sexual assault heal.

The coalition wants the film to serve as a catalyst to end the problem of sexual assault in the military.

People who want to host a screening of the film can go to www.invisiblewarmovie.com and follow the instructions. Bliesner also said that anyone wanting to watch the movie could view it on Facebook for $3.99.