Amy Ziering has made it her mission to expose the rampant sexual abuse in the United States military. She details firsthand the inspiration she felt to make “The Invisible War.”
Director Kirby Dick and I undertook making The Invisible War after doing extensive research on this issue and being horrified by what we uncovered.
Not only did we find an ongoing epidemic of sexual assault raging in our United States military, but we also found that the toll these assaults and their aftermath were taking on the survivors, our service members, unit cohesion, troop morale, national security, VA benefits, was of an enormity and scale that defied comprehension.
Sexual assault in our US military is categorically different from civilian assault in that the survivors do not have access to an impartial system of justice; As such, these crimes are, all too often, adjudicated by officers within the survivors’ chain of command who are not sufficiently trained or sufficiently impartial to fairly oversee the prosecution of these crimes.
…the overwhelming majority of perpetrators go unpunished…
As a result, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators go unpunished and survivors are forced to work alongside their assailants, often to suffer repeated episodes, with tragic results.
…a callous lack of empathy for assault survivors is coupled with a pervasive ethos that tends to unfairly “blame the victim…”
What’s more, in some units, a callous lack of empathy for assault survivors is coupled with a pervasive ethos that tends to unfairly “blame the victim,” turn on them and castigate them while protecting the perpetrator (who most often presents as a “good soldier”); further compounding things, soldier on soldier assault registers for many as a violation akin to incest given that soldiers are trained to believe that those in their unit are their “brothers” who will “have their back”.
The lack of access to an impartial system of justice coupled with this sense of a profound core betrayal and absence of support makes psychologically recovery from these assaults next to impossible for survivors.
Unlike many social ills, this one can, to a large degree, be solved.
Unlike many social ills, this one can, to a large degree, be solved. We found that in units where commanders really practiced zero tolerance for any incidence of sexual harassment, discrimination, or abuses of power, and where they vigorously prosecuted sex crimes and supported survivors of assault, the frequency and long term impact of these crimes was greatly reduced if not entirely eliminated.
The military can take on fighting its enemies within with the same determination and purpose it that it takes on fighting its enemies without and in doing so ensure a climate of safety and support for our soldiers. It seems only right that those who vow to give their lives to defend our constitutional rights are, themselves, afforded those same rights, and same respect, when faced with a criminal violation.
It’s our hope that in ten years we will all look back and be proud of the leadership role the military has taken on this issue and be a leader in modeling a response of justice and respect for survivors of sexual assault.