Invisible No More on Veterans' Day
In honor of Veterans' Day, M.S.W. student Rachel Beddick and Associate Professor Linda T. Sanford M.S.W. hosted two screenings of the award-winning documentary The Invisible War, which examines sexual assault within the U.S. Armed Forces through the stories of victims, both men and women. The event was co-sponsored by the SSW SGA and the Trauma and Interpersonal Violence specialization.
M.S.W. student Nicole Frankel, who attended one of the screenings, had the following to say about the event:
The Invisible War is a documentary about military sexual assault. It is a product of the Invisible No More movement, which has an excellent website notinvisible.org
The film was very intense. There was just such a sense of rage and sadness, so much pain that the women and men in the film had expressed, and it was hard not to feel powerless while watching. Any human suffering is intolerable, but such extreme physical and emotional pain inflicted on people that are sacrificing everything to protect their country was just too much to bear. The assaults were brutal enough, but then learning about how the military is structured to prevent victims from getting help and from getting any semblance of justice - it was maddening. There were times when I literally had my head in my hands, unable to process the attitudes that some of the military personnel had towards rape/sexual assault in general, but also when it involves members of the military. The disconnect between policies and reality made me want to jump into the screen and shake the person speaking. There are people making decisions that are so clearly unqualified to do so and it's hard not to declare the entire system broken.
To me it seemed that the rape culture that survivors struggle against in civilian life to be heard, to be understood, to be believed and not blamed etc. is so pervasive in the military, and then on top of that you have the military culture that emphasizes everyone being strong and not admitting defeat or injury. The idea that sexual assault is a crime seemed impossible to some of those in power. These men and women were tortured by an environment that constantly reinforced that the problem was theirs to get over.
I was stuck wondering where change could even begin in an environment in which rape is considered an occupational hazard. The minimization of assault and unwavering victim blaming seems impossible to dismantle. What are the best prevention and response efforts? Clearly the committees on sexual assault that the military has already established are not working. Perpetrators need to know they will be caught and punished. Survivors need to know that they will be taken seriously and not subject to disciplinary action if they choose to report. Supervisors/higher ranking officials need to know that this is a real problem that needs to be addressed and not ignored or otherwise explained away.
This film is an excellent tool for clinicians to see the reality of sexual assault in the military, but also the effects of assault on people in general. Trauma is unfortunately so pervasive in our society that all of us will encounter clients who have something like this in their past. Seeing this film shows us what is going on and starts the thought process and discussion about potentially effective ways to support a client after a traumatic experience, how to be that source of hope when so many others have failed.
To learn more about the film and recent developments on the issue of military sexual trauma, please visit notinvisible.org.
Photo: Lieutenant Elle Helmer at the Vietnam War Memorial, US Marine Corps, from THE INVISIBLE WAR, a Cinedigm/Docurama Films release. Photo Courtesy of Cinedigm/Docurama Films.