When The Invisible War Came to AAUWApril 30, 2012
Sexual assault in the military is a significant problem, one that affects 20 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the armed forces, according to the new documentary The Invisible War. This is an issue of great concern to AAUW, and last week we hosted a private screening of the Sundance Film Festival award-winning movie, which documents the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the military.
During the screening, many of the 50 community leaders in attendance cried after hearing the stories of the brave survivors of sexual assault and rape. The audience voiced outrage over the retaliation the veterans faced and the lack of medical attention they received for injuries relating to the rapes. People were audibly disgusted when the film highlighted the military prevention program — especially the ineffective and inappropriate directives that tell women to go places with a buddy and tell men to “wait until she’s sober.” When the film ended, it was clear to everyone that a lot of change is needed to turn our military from a good one to one that is truly great and safe for all of its service members.
Following the screening, there was a discussion with producer Amy Ziering and Elle Helmer, whose story was featured in the film. Helmer is a plaintiff in one of the two military sexual assault lawsuits that AAUW is supporting through our Legal Advocacy Fund case support program. Thanks to an AAUW Case Support Travel Grant Helmer was also able to speak about the lawsuit and her experiences at the AAUW of Florida state convention last weekend.
Helmer was an officer in the U.S. Marines who served at the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., from 2005 to 2006. She says she was raped in 2006 in the company commander’s office. As Helmer recounts in The Invisible War, she reported the rape, but her report was never taken seriously, and she faced retaliation. When she wanted to go the hospital for medical help, she was told, “You’re not broken; you’re just dusty. You’ll get into a lot of trouble if you go to the hospital.” Then, after she went to the hospital and had a rape kit done, it was “misplaced.” Her alleged assailant was never charged.
Viewing the film and hearing Helmer’s story and the discussion afterward spurred attendees to want to take action. Fortunately, there are many ways for them — and for you — to get involved.
- Visit The Invisible War website, and “like” their Facebook page.
- Contact your congressional representatives about the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (the STOP Act), which addresses the structural changes needed in the military.
- Attend a showing of The Invisible War in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C. The film opens on June 22. If you live in those areas, please plan to attend, and bring as many people with you as you can, especially on opening night. The number of people who attend in the first week will determine if the film will open in other cities, too.
- Donate to AAUW to help offset the legal costs of Cioca v. Rumsfeld and Klay v. Panetta, the military sexual assault lawsuits that we’re supporting.