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Aguilar writes: "Every politician who has ever uttered the empty slogan 'Support Our Troops' should be required to see 'The Invisible War,' a heart-wrenching documentary that exposes the epidemic of rape within the US military and its widespread cover-ups."

'The Invisible War' exposes the epidemic of rape in the military. (photo:
'The Invisible War' exposes the epidemic of rape in the military. (photo:

Military Rape: The Invisible War

By Rose Aguilar, Al Jazeera

04 July 12


very politician who has ever uttered the empty slogan "Support Our Troops" should be required to see The Invisible War, a heart-wrenching documentary that exposes the epidemic of rape within the US military and its widespread cover-ups.

They should be required to watch the troops they claim to support courageously talk about what it was like to be brutally raped and assaulted by their "brothers-in-arms". The numbers are astounding. According to Department of Defence estimates [PDF], more than 19,000 women and men were assaulted in 2010 alone. As many as 500,000 women and men have been raped or sexually assaulted since World War II. And nearly 80 per cent of survivors never report for fear of retaliation and intimidation.

Politicians and military top brass, who for years have claimed to embrace a "zero tolerance" policy, must be required to explain why sexual predators are still in every branch of the military or, once they get out, walking our streets. Of 3,223 perpetrators who were actually investigated, only 175 ended up serving jail time, according to Susan Burke, an attorney who grew up on military bases. The main problem is that unit commanders have full discretion to refuse to move forward with a case.

Approximately 33 per cent of servicewomen and men don't report their assault because the person to report to is a friend of the rapist; 25 per cent don't report because the person to report to is the rapist. Incidents of rape triple in units where assault is tolerated, say analysts.

According to Russell Strand, chief of the US army's Family Advocacy Law Enforcement Training Division, the average sex offender has about 300 victims and the vast majority of sex offenders will never be caught. In the case of the US military, the perpetrators walk - while the women and men they brutalise are forced to deal with physical and psychological wounds for the rest of their lives. The pain never goes away.

In most cases, the trauma and suffering that takes place after the rape is worse than the rape itself. Almost every woman and man you meet in this film has either attempted suicide or thought about it.

Former US air force officer Michael Matthews tried to kill himself in his garage. He was raped in the 1970s. "I was 19 and I went to the chow hall alone and the next thing I know, I was laying on the ground," he says in the film. "I was struck from behind and two guys were holding me down. One guy was pulling my pants down. I struggled. I was being struck and hit and told to shut up or they'd kill me. It destroyed my life."

Former Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Sergeant Myla Haider added: "There's no way out of it. If you think about it, the only way out is suicide or AWOL."

In 2002, Haider says she was raped by a CID agent who was under investigation for assaulting several other women. Not only was he never charged, but eventually he went on to become a supervisor at a major US corporation and reportedly sexually assaulted a female employee. He got off again and now lives in Queens, New York. Haider was discharged with no benefits after nine-and-a-half years of service.

Former Coast Guard Seawoman Kori Cioca is still fighting the Veterans Administration to cover the jaw surgery she desperately needs. In December 2005, she was raped by a commander who also hit her on the left side of her face. If she goes outside when it's cold, her jaw locks up. Because she didn't serve all of her time, she was denied ongoing healthcare coverage. Her assailant is still in the Coast Guard. The rape is almost always on her mind.

Retired navy officer Trina McDonald showed up for duty in February. In April, she was drugged and raped. "They made it very, very clear that if I said anything, they were gonna kill me."

"He put his locked and loaded .45 at the base of my skull," says retired US Army officer Lee Le Teff.

"He slammed my head against the concrete wall and very forcefully had sex with me," says retired US navy officer Tia Christopher.

Former US navy officer Hannah Sewell screamed and yelled for help. No one came to her rescue. "Once he was done, he rubbed his hand over my entire body and said: 'I own all of this.'" she said. "My main nerve in my spine was pinched in three places and my hips were rotated. I could barely walk. I collapsed, due to muscle spasms in my back because my back was injured during the rape."

Sewell was told her rape kit, nurse examiner's report, and photos of her bruised arm were all lost. She then learned that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had the evidence, but because the case had been closed, there was nothing they could do. Her assailant is still in the navy and stationed just three hours from her home in Kentucky.

The sheer number of women and men who candidly tell their stories is overwhelming. Just when you have time to take a deep breath and let the harrowing details sink in, another group appears. In some cases, their partners also relive the pain. Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering deserve major kudos for giving a voice to women and men of all ages, backgrounds and races.

I first wrote about rape in the military in July 2006 when former Army Specialist Suzanne Swift accused three sergeants in Iraq of sexual harassment and assault. Swift told me the sergeants propositioned her for sex shortly after arriving for her first tour of duty in February 2004. She remained in Iraq until February 2005.

"When you are over there, you are lower than dirt; you are expendable as a soldier in general, and as a woman, it's worse," she said in an interview with the Guardian.

Sadly, not much has changed.

When former Marine Officer Ariana Klay first checked in to Washington DC's Marine Barracks, the most prestigious unit in the Marine Corps, she was told: "Don't wear any make-up because the Marines will think that you want to sleep with them".

"There was a senior officer in my command who, the first time he spoke to me, he said: 'Female Marines here are nothing but objects for Marines to f**k.'"

The Marine Barracks, which is one mile from the US Capitol and handles security at the White House, conducts ceremonial honours at the Pentagon, is often visited by presidents and dignitaries and provides military funeral detail at Arlington National Ceremony. Because it's a showcase unit, no one questions what happens.

According to Klay and other women who served there, weekly alcohol-fuelled "happy hours", which start at 3pm and end at 2am, are mandatory. How is this even legal?

"The atmosphere off the bat at Marine Barracks Washington was horrible. People asked me what sexual favours I performed to get my orders there," said former Marine officer Elle Helmer. "I was ordered to drink. We went to various pubs and bars and the goal was to do a shot at each one, all paid for by the Marine Corps."

After one such weekly drinking event in August 2010, Klay was raped by a senior officer and his friend. One of her assailants was court-martialled and found guilty only of adultery and indecent language.

In March 2006, Helmer says she was raped by her company commander. The investigation was closed for lack of evidence, but a new case was reopened to charge her with public intoxication. Her assailant has since been promoted to lieutenant colonel.

Filmmakers Dick and Ziering contacted five female Marines who were each assaulted by an officer while serving at Marine Barracks. Not one officer was held accountable, yet four of the women were investigated or punished after they filed reports.

It's the classic case of blaming the victim while the rapist walks. Helen Benedict, whose reporting on women soldiers on inspired The Invisible War, has done extensive research on why soldiers rape, exploring everything from the military's culture of misogyny and patriarchy to illegal occupations and soldiers who have been abused as children (half of male enlistees have been abused, according to the Boston Veterans Affairs Health Center).

"Most rapists are repetitive criminals. People do it again and again," she says in the film. "The tragedy of that is every one of these guys who gets off free will be doing it to other women again and again, often for years and years and years."

A US navy study found that 15 per cent of incoming recruits attempted or committed rape before entering the military. That's twice the percentage of the equivalent civilian population. The Invisible War has received extensive media coverage, but most pieces fail to highlight Benedict's crucial point. If a soldier rapes a fellow soldier, he will most likely get a slap on the wrist and will continue raping. The US government has power to stop this, but chooses not to.

US army retired Major General Dennis Laich says he would see a soldier get four or five years for selling a minor amount of drugs. Then he would see a soldier get two weeks extra duty for rape.

"The last thing a company commander wants to do is make the phone call to his or her battalion commander to say: 'I have had an allegation of a rape in my unit'," he says. "It will adversely affect their career."

And therein lies the problem. Former Sergeant Myla Haider says commanders should not be the deciding authority, because they're not capable of being objective.

On April 14, 2012, Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta watched the film. Two days later, he took prosecutorial power away from direct commanders. Attorney Susan Burke says because Panetta bumped the issue up to higher-level commanders, this modest change will not result in more prosecutions.

She says the real solution is simple: "If they actually had systems of accountability that prosecuted and imprisoned perpetrators, you would get rid of the rapes right away."

Last year, Burke filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of 18 men and women seeking to bring former Secretaries of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates to justice. The lawsuit alleges that they oversaw a system that has deprived rape survivors of their constitutional rights. In December 2011, the court dismissed the survivors' lawsuit, ruling that rape is an occupational hazard of military service. In March, Burke filed another suit specifically targeting the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC.

Until the chain of command is removed from the process entirely and we start seeing prosecutions leading to jail time, rape will remain an occupational hazard of military service.

The Invisible War is in theatres across the United States. See it. Spread the word. There is no excuse for denial and fear of taking on the military-industrial complex. Shame government officials until they get serious about ending pervasive rape in the world's most powerful institution.

Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW in San Francisco. your social media marketing partner


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+4 # Capn Canard 2012-07-04 19:43
Having women is the military has always been a recipe for rape as the rapist soldiers are the bottom of the barrel and in the military the scum will not be treated like the scum that they are. i.e. the scum are used to being treated like scum, so they just continue their criminal behavior. Sorry to say this but there are far too many recruits who are a brick shy of full load, and then there is very little distribution of empathy. And the lack of empathy for victims is like a bomb with a short fuse. Long story short: The military trains all men to savage the enemy. And you can never expect savages to behave like gentlemen.
+2 # Lolanne 2012-07-05 15:11
Quoting Capn Canard:
. . . Long story short: The military trains all men to savage the enemy. And you can never expect savages to behave like gentlemen.

No, but you can sure as hell prosecute them for the criminals they are when they commit the violent crime of rape. And rape IS a violent crime, one that nearly always involves assault in other ways as well. There is NO excuse for this situation. Of all the shames our government has to answer for, this tops the list. To allow this kind of culture in the military is to condone it. No explanation is good enough and no excuse is acceptable.
+8 # colvictoria 2012-07-04 22:55
10 boys were sodomized by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. He was charged with some 40 counts of sexual misconduct. In this case there was justice and he will serve a long prison sentence. In the military it is a totally different story and these rapists are getting away with murder.
Thanks to all involved in the making of this important film which brings to light
this sensitive and controversial subject of rape in the military.
Any woman or man thinking of joining the military should see this film before enlisting. The single act of being raped by someone who is supposed to be trusted can destroy one's life forever. It is PTSD even before one experiences the real war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just one more reason to say NO to military recruiters!
+11 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-07-05 01:27
Anyone who like me has been in the military knows how the training teaches you to not feel for your fellow human being.
If you feel, you can't kill.

Then there is all the macho thing with guns and power, like "your gun is your d**k, f**k the bad guys" (sorry for the profanities).

Behumanization of the (alleged) enemy is a sad necessity if the soldiers are to use their guns, unfortunately it dehumanizes everybody starting with the recruit.

This is one of the reasons why waging war should only be undertaken in self defense, when there is no need to pump up hatred for anyone: agressors can be fought without hatred.
+8 # Valleyboy 2012-07-05 04:12
Rape inside the military is a microism of the rape of whole countries by the american military machine.
+7 # Politicalprincess 2012-07-05 06:18
Rape of men and women in American institutions such the military and prisons has been an acceptable joke for too long. The damage it causes over generations is no joke.
+7 # Noni77 2012-07-05 07:36
Not just the military, friends who work for the National Security Agency tell me that the classified nature of the job and the identities of the people who work there make reporting rape next to impossible. One friend of mine was attacked by a contractor, as a result she lost her 3 month old fetus. The Ann Arundel police were NOT allowed to investigate, NSA refused them access to the crime scene, refused to allow the contractor to be interviewed, etc. Essentially, NSA obstructed the case so that the rapist got away with it - then they went into harassment mode against my friend. They sent NSA Security to stalk and harass her 24/7 as well as falsey accused her of leaking "classified documents" - no mention ever of what documents, on what subject, to what entity (typical false flag NSA retaliatory scheme used on countless employees who report wrong doing to the EEO or the. IG). She was massively slandered at work and in her neighborhood such that she had an emotional breakdown - then they fired her fir having a breakdown. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. NSA is apparently run by sexual deviants for sexual deviants. And "certain" Maryland politicians know they can visit NSA for "services" behind closed doors that would cost them their political careers. That way, NSA makes sure these long-time politicians do their bidding too. And one is a female.
-1 # Valleyboy 2012-07-06 02:44
Wow, that's awful. It's no wonder these agencies are so lawless being full of scumbags.
+9 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-07-05 07:48
Rape isn’t punished because it’s integral to the character military training is designed to produce. How can anyone conclude otherwise?
+2 # fishmother 2012-07-05 10:14
And then there are the blue helmets ~ the UN Peacekeepers, who sometimes qualify as military rapists and who also extort women for favors in trade for protection and goods.
+1 # Utopia Bold 2012-07-05 12:01
Since the entire world is a patriarchal rape culture in which rape and woman-beating is used to keep women "in line," it is no surprise that rape is rampant in the most virulent sector of male culture-the military. It's the military's job to mass murder people, so why is anyone surprised that men in the military rape women?
0 # The Voice of Reason 2012-07-06 22:49
So ... we should stop war. And alcohol ... and free sex ... and drugs ... and ...

hmmmm. easier said than done. Besides, there are too many weapons-based economies that would fail. Plus, everyone loves the alcohol and free sex too drunk to fail economies.

You can really tell a lot about a society by what it puts into the economy. Ours are either predator economies (weapons, drugs, things that destroy us) or sucker economies (fuel, junk we don't need, residuals), or so completely distorted and easily manipulated by the cheaters that run the governments that crashing is the only thing to hope for.

But what to replace it with that is beneficial to all and cures this addictive behavior? hmmmm. even harder still.

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