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Stil from The Invisible War
    Still from The Invisible War. (Kirby Dick, 2012). Used with permission.


  issue 4.2 |  

Journal Issue 4.2


The Invisible War. Directed by Kirby Dick. Los Angeles: Chain Camera Pictures, 2012. 98 minutes.

Reviewed by Stephanie Szitanyi

The Invisible War, a feature-length documentary, explores and unearths sexual assault as an invisible epidemic in the United States military. Through interviews and first person accounts, it chronicles the lived experiences of women--and to a lesser extent men--who were sexually assaulted during their term in the military. In particular, the movie argues that in so much as women are the main targets of sexual assault, the processes through which sexual assault is reported, investigated, and prosecuted in the military are deeply masculinized and dominated by men, and dissuade women from bringing their claims forward for fear of chastising and retaliation from their peers and superiors, reduction in rank, or dismissal from the military. As a result, a discrepancy is evident in the number of occurrences of sexual assault, the number reported, and the number that is prosecuted each year. This films attempts to unearth the power structures that allow for this discrepancy. The documentary is equally successful in highlighting other core themes that act as the foundation of many of the personal narratives: lack of access to an impartial justice system within the military, frustrations associated with navigating the Veteran's Administration to obtain medical benefits for injuries sustained through sexual trauma, and the negligent emotional and psychiatric care for victims of sexual assault. The film skillfully highlights not only how sexual assault and rape in particular act as mechanisms of exclusion but further reveals how the lived experiences of women in the military are juxtaposed against a macro understanding of the military as an institution.
    The strength of the film is in its ability to compile the various points of contention on sexual assault, taking into account the structures of violence and power in the military as well as the blatant physical, emotional, and social consequences of having veterans who were sexually assaulted attempt to negotiate civilian life. The movie is particularly beneficial for showcasing sexual assault as an issue of violence and power generally, as well as specifically in the context of the military, particularly for courses that include topics on women's past, current, and future role in the military, whether domestically or comparatively in the context of other nations. It should also be considered for courses on women in politics or leadership as well as curricula that introduce the concept of intersectionality; the movie provides powerful testimonials from women in different branches of military service and rank but also importantly of diverse races, ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. But the powerful depiction of women's lived experiences is both the film's greatest asset and flaw. Men who have experienced sexual assault in the US military are first mentioned thirty-five minutes into the piece and this topic encompasses only four minutes of the ninety-eight minute movie. Instructors interested in delving deeper into topics surrounding masculinized power structures in the military and how they are played out similarly and differently on masculine versus feminine bodies may consider adding excerpts or chapters of Aaron Belkin's Bring Me Men (2012) to their assigned readings. 1

1 Aaron Belkin, Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Façade of American Empire, 1898-2001 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

Stephanie Szitanyi is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University. Her research interests include militarism and militarization, militarized masculinity, semiotic readings of war museums, memorials, and other modes of militarized memorialization. Her dissertation focuses on democratic militarized societies with a specific interest in the relationship between militarization and women's political representation.

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