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Film Exposes Epidemic of Rape in Armed Services

Twenty percent of female veterans are sexually assaulted, experts say.


On Monday night, the co-hosted a free screening of Kirby Dick’s new film with The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling & Education.

Opening in select cities nationwide on June 22, the investigatory documentary explores the epidemic of military sexual trauma within all branches of the U.S. armed forces, fostered by a misogynistic culture and a chain of command that fails to hold perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment accountable.

The Invisible War incorporates interviews with dozens of veterans, both male and female, who encountered sexual assault during active duty, as well as dehumanizing treatment when they attempted to report their attackers.

“There is a pervasive system in many large institutions with sexual assault and rape,” Ivonne Zucco, Executive Director of the , said when introducing the film during a well-attended screening.

The Invisible War deftly exposes the Department of Defense’s historic tendency to sweep accusations of rape under the rug and often turn the tables on the victims themselves, answering their pleas for justice with investigations of their character and involuntary discharges from service. According to the film, 20 percent of female veterans are sexually assaulted during their time in service.

Adam Birnbaum, the Director of Film Programming at the Avon, called the film “timely,” referring to the recently exposed sexual abuse scandal of Horace Mann School in New York City.

The film depicts how sexual assault is that much harder to prevent and punish in a closed institution like the military, where justice is pursued by commanding officers as opposed to an independent force. In theory, commanding officers are impartial, but in practice they are often motivated to protect the attackers, or are the attackers themselves. The film makes the argument that this system is inherently flawed, and until there is an impartial justice system to hold attackers accountable for their actions, change will be a struggle every step of the way.

The screening was followed by a panel including Margaret Middleton, Executive Director of the Connecticut Veteran’s Legal Center; clinical mental counselor Victoria Panna; Yolande Goodman, a veteran of the Marine Corps and military sexual trauma survivor; and Setta Mushegian, Senior Crisis Counselor at the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling & Education.

During a question-and-answer session, the panel was asked whether it's possible to change the culture of such a deeply ingrained institution.

“I am here because I have hope,” Goodman answered. “There is hope beyond hope that we can get this right.”

Those looking to help end the military sexual trauma epidemic can sign the petition on the Invisible War website or write to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who is on the Armed Services Committee in Congress.

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