by Jessica Critcher
I recently watched a screening of The Invisible War, a heart-wrenching documentary about the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the US military. I should probably state up front that I have deep and long-standing ties to the armed forces—I even got a military discount on my ticket to this film. In addition to grand parents and great-grand parents serving, my father served twenty years in the Marine Corps. So did my father-in-law. I have two brothers-in-law who served in the Army. My husband has been in the Coast Guard for almost five years and will probably make it a career. My younger brother is about to join the Navy. My younger sister is about to join the Air Force. To say this film and this issue strike close to home would be an understatement.
I expected to cry during this film. I expected to leave the theater with my eyes red and swollen because the subject matter is so painful. But I couldn’t cry. Instead, I endured a 90 minute panic attack. Tears are cathartic. Crying is an emotional release. There was no release while watching this film, because the emotions it inspires cannot be purged and forgotten. Days later I am still haunted by the survivors’ stories. This was not a pleasant film to watch. It’s an unpleasant topic that most would probably rather ignore. That’s the premise in a nutshell: this is horrific, and even though we don’t like to think about it, ignoring it won’t make it go away.
As a feminist with a particular interest in militarism, the disappointing statistics about Military Sexual Trauma (MST) were not new to me. And yet, no matter how much I study or talk about this issue, the information is always heart-breaking. In 2012, in the institutions that claim to be defending our freedom, rape is considered to be an occupational hazard. Here is a tiny portion of the information provided, as quoted by Al Jazeera:
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.
Part of what makes this so troubling is the fact that, historically, the military has provided many opportunities for women’s advancement. In World War II, the military invited women to join and to earn the same pay as men. To this day, military ranks and pay-grades are standardized and publicly available. In a country where the gender wage gap for civilians hasn’t budged since the 70’s, the military honors equal pay for equal work, with adjustments for cost of living.
The military was also desegregated in 1948, before “Separate but Equal” was deemed unconstitutional. They recently allowed gay and lesbian service members to serve openly, something many employers are still not ready to do. And, the military also offers socialized medicine, something critics of government-funded health care like to ignore. Yes, the American taxpayers covered my many doctor visits as a child, and they pay for my birth control today. Through this lens, the military could actually be considered progressive.
The reason I bring up these facts is not to sugarcoat the many problems inherent in the military or to defend its treatment toward the survivors of MST. These facts are to serve as reminders that the military is not unchangeable. Read more