The Invisible War is a heart-wrenching documentary that exposes the epidemic of rape within the US military and its widespread cover-ups.
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.
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.
|"There's no way out of it. If you think about it, the only way out is suicide or AWOL."|
- Former Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Sergeant Myla Haider
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.
"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.
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 Salon.com 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 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.
Follow her on Twitter: @roseaguilar
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.