Kirby Dick tackles the subject of rape in the US military in this Oscar nominated documentary which is both startling and tough to stomach. The cold hard facts of the US military are that there is a greater chance of being raped by a colleague than killed by enemy fire and with only an estimated 14% of all cases actually being reported the extent of the problem is not even truly known. If that were not shocking enough, the deficient internal hierarchy and legal system within the forces leads to a conviction rate of only 8% with many (alleged) perpetrators going free and continuing to offend.
Much of the run time is given to a wide ranging series of anguished interviews with female victims who all share the same story of a failed system which has let them down and offered no protection against the epidemic of rape in the military. Whilst the majority of rape cases are against women there are a handful of male victims although the number of them that come forward to report the crime is negligible so little is known of the extent of the problem. In either case the major reason that so few cases are reported is that with an internal reporting system often starting with the perpetrators of the crimes, the personnel often have nowhere to turn. In many cases even when they are able to report the crime they are themselves targeted by military investigators and cases can be opened and closed within days having failed to be investigated in anything like the depth that would be afforded a victim in the civilian population.
Clearly the system is terribly deficient and badly in need of intervention but all we are given is a relentless barrage of tales from the victim’s side. No doubt the military would be reluctant to sit and address the issues on camera but with the negative publicity which will inevitably follow the release of the documentary you would expect them to want to have their say. It seems as if Kirby Dick decided not to give them a chance to put their side across as we only hear from one or two officials and in very limited interview portions. With the imbalance of this structure all that is left is a trail of harrowing stories which are used (along with many statistical subtitles cut between segments) to further a certain agenda rather than investigate a topic.
Previous efforts from Kirby Dick included This Film Is Not Yet Rated and Twist Of Faith which are respectively a great under-achiever and a frustrating and rather messy documentary. Clearly he has an eye for a story but he often disappoints and lets down his subjects with his approach. Hopefully The Invisible War helps move things in the right direction because clearly the issue desperately needs addressing but this could and should have been so much more.