The Invisible War: it’s so much scarier than you think

24 Jan

*This post has been edited to reflect some very useful feedback.

Just as a warning:  I don’t know too much about military parlance so if I called something by the wrong name, I apologize, this sort of thing is slightly outside my area of expertise.  Also, I am not speaking critically about those who choose a career in the military or those who serve for a shorter period of time.  I am simply criticizing the lack of accountability within the military structure when it comes to issues of rape and sexual assault.  I thought women had it bad in this respect in the civilian world but man oh man was I wrong.  Read on if you feel so inclined.

I can think of at least a dozen times over the past few years when I’ve said, in conversation with someone about equal treatment for women, that if there is a draft women should be drafted along side men.  Would I want to be drafted?  Hell no.  Violence scares me.  Guns scare me.  Basic training scares me.  The way I know I would react to authorities yelling at me scares me.  All of that aside I always thought, honestly believed, that women fought for a really long time (in fact, we are still fighting) for equal treatment and that means we have to take the good with the bad.  Along with a desire for equal pay for equal work, we should be required to defend our country if need be.  We should be drafted.  So you would think that when I got a New York Times alert on my phone this afternoon that said “Pentagon Lifts Ban on Women Serving in Combat Roles” I would be happy.  Well, not happy, but relieved.  Well…placated.  Yea, I think placated.  But I wasn’t.  I was angry.

This past Tuesday my friend Dee and I went to the Film Society of Lincoln Center to see “The Invisible War.”  The film was temporarily re-released in anticipation of the Oscars for which “The Invisible War” was nominated in the documentary category.  I had been really interested to see it which makes sense since, I recently discovered, I pretty much only read about sexual assault and urban farming. (Only a slight exaggeration.  I also read whatever happens to be in the New Yorker.)  Anyway, “The Invisible War” is an investigative documentary about the instances, and handling (or lack thereof), of rape and sexual assault in the US military.  Now I knew going into it that it wasn’t handled well (when is it, for crying out loud) but I was not prepared for what I saw.  Not even close.  Just to give you an idea, the movie was 1 hour and 37 minutes long and I probably cried for about 1 hour and 27 minutes of that.  It was, to put it lightly, horrifying.  Honestly, the movie was incredibly done but I just could not wait for it to be over.  I just sat there and watched the women and men they interviewed go back over the most painful experiences of their lives and I can tell you that watching them speak, I realized that I don’t think I actually know what pain is.  What injustice is.  I have never experienced pain or injustice even close to what the victims in this film did and do every day.  How they get out of bed in the morning after what they went through, after what they continue to go through, is an incredible feat.  And the thing is, that the fight they are fighting seems almost hopeless.

According to “The Invisible War,” since women were allowed to serve in the military, there have been at least 500,000 rapes and sexual assaults.  500,000.  And in the overwhelming majority of those cases, there has been no significant investigation, no conviction.  These men, these monsters, continue to serve in the military and in at least one case, receive an honor for service while their rape charge was being argued within the military justice system.  How?  How is that possible?  How is it possible that an act so vile is just ignored over and over again?  That the victim is dishonorably discharged, or discharged for medical reasons stemming from her attack, and the predator is allowed to continue to serve, continue to prey.  And then that predator is released into the civilian population and you’d better believe he continues to prey there.  These are the people that are supposed to protect.  How can we send them into other countries to fight, to represent the United States, when they are drugging and raping their fellow soldiers, when they are hitting a fellow soldier so hard across the face that she has to stay on a soft diet for years, when they are calling a fellow soldier “the walking mattress” because of the amount of times she has been raped.  Who are we that we let this continue to happen within an organization that should make us proud? Whose members we trust to behave in a respectful, or at the very least humane, manner?

So when I read that article this afternoon, I didn’t feel as though another level of equality had been reached, I felt sickened and afraid.  All I could think about when I read that headline was that the more units women can serve in in this current military system, the more women will be raped, their lives destroyed.  Rape in the military, according to the military, is something that happens.  It is something that needs to be prevented by forcing women to have buddies when walking through their own barracks at night so they don’t get attacked.  It is prevention aimed at women.  It is the women’s responsibility to make sure they don’t put themselves in a dangerous situation.  It’s not about the men being told that rape is wrong.  What are women supposed to do when a man, their superior, breaks into their room and rapes them on their own bed?  When they are told that if they speak out they will be killed?  When rape is considered “an occupational hazard” of joining the armed forces?  It makes me sick.

So now I have to change my tune.  You know what?  I do still think that, ideally, women should be drafted alongside men if a draft is required.  I think women should be welcome in every single unit in the armed forces.  But a lot of things have to change before that.  Rape in the military needs to be taken seriously by the military, by the government, by the country.  Rape cases need to be tried outside of the military so there is accountability and transparency.  Rapists need to be held accountable for their actions because if they continue to get away with it, what reason do they have to ever stop?  And rape victims need to be treated as such, as victims.  Whether they be male or female, they need justice to be served.  They need proper medical, emotional and psychological support and treatment.  They need to know it was not their fault.  So until women are treated as equal…no, fuck that.  Until women are treated as human beings by the military as a whole, I am not in support of women in combat roles.  I am not in support of women in any role at all.  And that’s not because I think women are incapable, quite the opposite.  Women are incredibly capable of doing just about anything men can do.  It’s because I think that the patriarchal system within which our military sits quite nicely is not fit to offer women what they need:  protection and respect.  If we put our life on the line for this country, then the least you can do is promise us that we will not be raped by those with whom we serve.  Or, if not that because some evil seeps into every organization, at least promise us that if we are raped, justice will be done.  Promise us we will get the support and protection we deserve.  Until then, you don’t deserve our loyalty.  You don’t deserve our bodies on the front lines.  You don’t deserve women.

(You all should see “The Invisible War.”  Bring tissues.  And maybe a punching bag.)

7 Responses to “The Invisible War: it’s so much scarier than you think”

  1. Jane January 24, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    hey, rebekah. we should talk about this some time, as i have personal experience in the arena, and i was one of the first women to battle the veterans administration in regards to what is now referred to as military sexual trauma. and there are many reasons people join the military. unfortunately often to escape a present situation that is even more dreadful than the military, or simply as a matter of survival. from jane, kendra’s friend.

    • FranklyRebekah January 24, 2013 at 11:57 am #

      That’d be great, Jane. I know that my response to the movie certainly came from a place of privilege and I think I should have made that more clear in my post. In fact, I will edit a few things. And my response is not a realistic one – women will continue to serve whether or not the military figures out a better approach to this. But, man. The world makes me want to explode sometimes.

  2. creatingcarrie January 26, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    perhaps we should just have an all non-male army. if (assumedly straight) males are the problem, then they don’t get to serve until they get their shit together.

    • FranklyRebekah January 26, 2013 at 11:57 am #

      See? Now THAT would have been a good blog post.

      • creatingcarrie January 29, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

        write it!

      • FranklyRebekah January 29, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

        Maybe I will!!!!

      • creatingcarrie February 8, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

        i will read it if you write it! (after i finish this stupid paper)

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