Saturday, January 19, 2013
I've been meaning to write a post about the Invisible War for two months. The plan was to take notes on its inaccurate and slanted use of statistics, research for comparable statistics in the civilian world in terms of what percentage of sexual assault allegations are prosecuted, and show how unfair it is to compare how the military deals with allegations of sexual assaults compared to how the civilian world does so. The problem was that I'm a busy man at my day job, and lazy when it comes to this blog/details/hard evidence. I even took notes on the second time I watched that documentary, but now have no idea where that notepad went so here we go.
What prompted the writing now is that I just got an email from a law school friend about whether I saw this great movie. He shares the same left-leaning political views I do and is somewhat inclined, like me I guess, to sympathize with victims. He was moved by this movie. As was my wife. When me and the little lady watched this movie, it led a lively discussion where she couldn't believe the kind of crap we let go on in the military. I told her our efforts to deal with sexual assaults were not accurately portrayed, yet she really didn't believe me.
If you're not aware of what the movie is about, I'll let the description from the movie's website explain: The Invisible War, a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of America's most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The film paints a startling picture of the extent of the problem-today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 19,000 violent sex crimes in the military in 2010. The Invisible War exposes the epidemic, breaking open one of the most under-reported stories of our generation, to the nation and the world.
Let me just be clear, I get it. Sexual assaults are a very serious matter and that the way those women in the movie were treated is deplorable. The fact that any woman (or man) is raped by fellow Soldiers is disheartening. That many of victims portrayed in this movie had attackers who are still serving, along with the comanders and investigators who are alleged to have done nothing and to have sometimes punished the victims, is more than tragic. If true, it is enraging. If possible, those cases should be reopened and reexamined to determine if there is anything that should be done to those who failed to do the right thing the first time around. That being said, this movie doesn't recognize that the Army gets it too. The message from Congress has been clear for sometime on what the Army needs to do with regards to sexual assault. And at heart, the Army (or military) is filled with ambitious career driven people who follow orders and tow the company line. So much of our legal training, the military police investigative training, both of our time, resources, etc., is spent making sure these cases are properly investigated and prosecuted. So much so that it's hard to really communicate to someone who doesn't live it and see it on a day-to-day basis. In short, this movie is late to the party in terms of what we do and have been doing for years.
And by way of comparison, we take more tough cases to court-martial than civilian prosecutor's do. I say this not with hard evidence, just by anecdotal evidence of what I've experienced by interning in the sexual crimes section of a civilian prosecutors office, seeing high profile civilian sexual assault investigations in the media that were not prosecuted but would be by us, and seeing in my jurisdiction how the special victim prosecutor ensures that if a female does not recant the allegation and wants to testify in open court, then we take the case to court-marital no matter how confident we are that we can win the case. Almost every time, we put the evidence out there and let the panel decide, not concerned for our conviction percentages the same way civilian prosecutors are. This strategy, by the way, is being criticized from those who know about it.
In short, in my time in the military, I do not recognize the version of the military justice system that is portrayed in the Invisible War. The movie is not fair nor is it an open and frank discussion where opposing points of view are given enough time to lay out what the military is doing right to address the issue of sexual assaults. Yet I'm fairly certain it will win an Oscar and continue to earn the acclaim of fans the world over. I just want everyone to know, though, that before they make up their mind, they should make sure they are getting the full picture and not assume this movie is giving that to them.