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The numbers are stark: More than 3,000 members of the military report being sexually assaulted every year, while the Department of Defense estimates that another 16,000 attacks go unreported. And according to many victims, the trauma doesn’t end there. Investigations are handled within the military’s “chain of command,” at the discretion of officers who may not want to report wrongdoing in their own ranks. A new documentary gives voice to the women–and men–fighting to change military culture and its handling of sexual assault claims.
- Kirby Dick Director, "The Invisible War"
- Amy Ziering Producer, "The Invisible War"
- Anu Bhagwati Veteran and Executive Director of the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN)
The Invisible War–Official Trailer
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Some call it the military's dirty little secret. The Department of Defense estimates that 19,000 service members are sexually assaulted each year and victims say the trauma doesn't end with the assault. The numbers show that of the thousands of rapes reported each year, only a few hundred are investigated and even fewer are ever prosecuted.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOne of the problems, according to victims, is that reports must go through the chain of command. They're handled at the discretion of officers who may not want to report wrongdoing in their ranks. Even worse, a commanding officer or military police might, in some cases, be the perpetrator.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA new documentary aims to give voice to the women and men who say they've been victimized twice while serving their country. Joining us to discuss this is Anu Bhagwati. She is the executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, SWAN. That's an advocacy organization for servicewomen in the armed forces. Anu is a Marine Corps veteran who left the service at the rank of captain in 2004. She joins us from NPR's Bryant Park studios in New York. Anu Bhagwati, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANU BHAGWATIThank you for having me.
NNAMDIThe Department of Veterans Affairs released an independent study recently estimating that one in three women had experienced military sexual trauma while on active service, but this isn't new, is it?
BHAGWATINo, it's not new. Military sexual assault has been a problem in the military for decades. It's really only in the last few years that there's been increasing Congressional attention and enough pressure placed upon the Department of Defense by the media and by stakeholders, you know, the brave women and men who have come forward to highlight this problem and so you're seeing a lot of reform and a lot of ideas and conversation about how to fix this problem. But the problem is not new by any stretch of the imagination.
BHAGWATII mean, you mentioned that the data is quite shocking, over 19,000 sexual assaults and rapes are occurring each year in the military and yet only about 13.5 percent of those are reported. And so, you know, that really gives us a sense of the climate within the military if so few women and men are coming forward to report. And there's quite a bit of hostile behavior that they face when considering whether or not to report. And the retaliation is enormous, it's still quite high.
BHAGWATII mean, we run a legal and peer support helpline at SWAN and one of the key features of each call by a sexual assault rape or harassment victim is that they've been punished for coming forward to get help for their experience.
NNAMDIThe Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, saw the documentary we referred to earlier and which we'll be talking about later. It's called "The Invisible War." We'll be talking with the director and the producer. But the Secretary of Defense announced changes to how sexual assault cases would be handled after he saw this film. What did he say?
BHAGWATIWell, the Secretary of Defense Panetta was authorized by Congress, in other words, he didn't sort of wake up one morning and decide he was going to address this problem. He was mandated by Congress to implement several reforms, victims' protection, such as requiring that commanders implement unit transfers for victims who request those transfers. And these are lifesaving measures which, you know, shockingly, had not been in place prior to this year.
BHAGWATIBut he also was talking about some military justice reform internally that would change the way sexual assault cases are prosecuted. And so this is not happening overnight, it's going to take several months. He was introducing the notion of special victims units which are used currently in the civilian, you know, criminal justice system to handle rapes and sexual assaults. And we've seen a lot of success with those SVU units in the civilian world and so they will be implementing those units in the military.
BHAGWATIAnd the other major change to military law will be that case disposition of sexual assault cases will be transferred to the colonel level. Currently, they're handled at a junior officer level and they will be taken, you know several notches up in the chain of command. And so, you know, a lot of victims were concerned that this wasn't going to change the climate or the way the cases...
NNAMDIIndeed, I'll get to that in a second, but I'd like to invite our listeners to join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. How do you think the military should address the issue of sexual assault in its ranks? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet at kojoshow or go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you can ask a question or make a comment. When I interrupted you, Anu Bhagwati, you were saying or I was about to ask that some see these reforms as inadequate, that moving the reporting higher up the chain of command has been in place in some branches of the military for years with no substantial effect. What do you say?
BHAGWATIWell, policy has not been in place for, you know, prior to this year. I mean, in fact, it's going to have to be legislated and so, you know, in the current National Defense Authorization Act, these changes are being introduced and hopefully will be passed. But they are changes that, you know, in a vacuum, will not fix the problem. There currently is no deterrent to commanders doing the wrong thing. There's no deterrent to sexual predators continuing to prey upon, you know, innocent servicemen and women in the military.
BHAGWATIAnd so, you know, what people fail to realize is there is very limited access to justice within the military. In fact, our civilian system is much improved and so when you, you know, take the oath to defend your country and you wear the uniform and in many cases you go off to war, what people don't realize is your constitutional rights are, you know, de facto limited.
BHAGWATIYou cannot sue for damages as a service member, you know, regardless of the crime that's committed against you, whether it's medical malpractice, whether it's sexual assault or rape or, you know, racial discrimination or discrimination based on sexual orientation, for example. And so, you know, you really sacrifice your access to the civil court system and that's one thing that we're fighting for over the next few years is to bring parity between the military system and the civilian system.
BHAGWATIThere's no reason that victims of sexual assault should not be able to sue their perpetrators or their employers.
NNAMDIThat's because of something known as the Feres doctrine. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
BHAGWATIAbsolutely, this is a doctrine that is now over 60 years old, which, you know, every first-year law student can tell you that service members cannot sue for damages. You know, there was a case brought in the '50s and the Supreme Court has basically ruled that, you know, it's in favor of the military. We hear a lot about military deference, you know, Congress always defers to the military. But the courts have also deferred to the military on these issues.
BHAGWATIIn the case of racial discrimination, medical malpractice, sexual assault, the courts have ruled according to what's now known as the Feres doctrine, that rape is what's known as incident to service, that you can basically expect to be raped in the course of your military service, which is, you know, something that the American people just simply will not stand for. This is, you know, we can expect that our young men and women may be in harm's way on the battlefields, you know, in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever we engage overseas, but we should not expect that our young men and women should be raped by their fellow brother and sister in arms.
NNAMDII suspect there might be others who would interpret incident to service differently. Here is, on the phone, Michael in Lake Ridge. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Michael, are you there?
MICHAELYes, I am, Kojo, thank you. What I wanted to say was that I'm listening to a lot of this, the media fallout, that is quite obviously attacking the military system. I used to be a military prosecutor and I know that most cases that arise like this are very thoroughly investigated and very thoroughly prosecuted to the extent that they can be. So I just don't buy a lot of the media blitz on this right now.
MICHAELI think the Department of Defense for many, many years has taken these allegations very seriously so I just wanted to say that.
NNAMDIHave you seen the film "The Invisible War" by any chance, Michael?
MICHAELYes, I did.
NNAMDIYou saw the film and you think that the film is an exaggeration, that we really do not have a problem?
MICHAELThat's a fair way of saying it. I think that any human system has problems, of course, but I think that this one has just drawn it to conclusions that are not tenable. Most people, most commanders, take very seriously their concern for their service members, including women and men both. And when an allegation of this nature arises, it's very thoroughly investigated 90 percent of the time.
NNAMDIAna Bhagwati, what say you?
BHAGWATIWell, I have to say, based on personal experience, I mean, when I was a company commander in the Marine Corps, I saw sexual assault cases being swept under the rug by field grade officers, lieutenant colonels and colonels. And this wasn't all the time, but this was, you know, enough of the time that it was not only incredibly discouraging because, you know, junior officers weren't empowered to do the right thing because senior officers were punishing them for stepping forward and reporting these cases.
BHAGWATIBut, you know, it really gives you an idea of the internal climate in many units where, you know, it sort of forces you to rely on trusting your senior officer and if he does the wrong thing...
NNAMDIHow is sexual assault in the military handled?
BHAGWATI...then there's no recourse left.
NNAMDIHow is it handled in other countries?
BHAGWATIWell, we're actually putting together a foreign military paper. I mean, there are -- which will be released in a couple of months. But there are other ways of looking at this system and I would encourage you to go to our website for more information about that. I mean, one of the things that, again, currently is off limits to U.S. service members is access to civil remedies.
BHAGWATIYou know, the idea that your chain of command really is endowed with the power to determine whether or not a case goes to trial is the key problem here. You know, one idea that's been floated around is, why doesn't the military have, you know, separate prosecutors outside the chain of command? Why is it up to an officer, regardless of his or her rank in the chain of command, to be the final, you know, arbiter of whether or not a case goes to trial and whether or not, you know, a perpetrator sees the inside of a courtroom?
NNAMDII've been reading that Israel, Australia, Britain, some Scandinavian countries take a rape investigation outside the purview of the military, is that correct?
BHAGWATII think that's a little bit exaggerated. Each system has, I mean, it's a little more nuanced than that and so, you know, I would encourage your listeners to stay on tuned on...
NNAMDIMichael, thank you very much for your call. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with Anu Bhagwati. She's the executive director of the Service Women's Action Network. It's an advocacy organization for servicewomen in the armed forces. Anu was a Marine Corps veteran who left the service at the rank of captain in 2004. She joins us from NPR's Bryant Park studios in New York City.
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Why do you think sexual assault is still so underreported in the military and elsewhere? 800-433-8850. Anu, according to the Department of Defense's own report, nearly 70 percent of reported actionable cases did not go to trial due to lower level command discretion. Is that likely to change under the new guidelines?
BHAGWATIWe're waiting to see if this change has any effect on the numbers of assaults that are reported and the number of prosecutions. And also it should be, it should be, we should remember that just because you're prosecuted doesn't mean that you're punished. And so, you know, the military, for the last three years, has allowed about 10 percent of its convicted sexual predators to keep their careers, which is amazing, right?
BHAGWATIThey're still in uniform, even though they're convicted felons. And so we have a problem, not just in terms of prosecution, but in terms of sentencing guidelines and they really need to change. The other thing I want to mention to your listeners is the problem really doesn't end with the military, it extends into the Department of Veterans Affairs and, you know, we had to actually litigate. We had to take the Department of Veterans Affairs and the DOD to court over the last two years to give us information about the extent to which sexual assault and domestic violence and sexual harassment happen in the military.
BHAGWATIAnd, you know, we found some very interesting information on the VA side, which is that among the claims that are filed by victims assault and harassment, only 32 percent of those sexual trauma claims that are based on post-traumatic stress disorder are passed. And that is, you know, it's amazing to realize that only one in three, right, sexual assault and harassment victims with post traumatic stress are getting compensation for their post traumatic stress. When you look at combat claims, that number jumps up to 53 percent.
BHAGWATISo as a combat trauma survivor with post traumatic stress, you have a much higher chance of getting your claim passed. And this is a life-saving issue, right? I mean, we have 40 percent of homeless women veterans who are reporting that they've been sexually assaulted in service. So sexual assault in service has enormous ramifications for the quality of life for welfare, for whether or not somebody is addicted to substances, is having problems accessing housing, shelter, keeping a job. It doesn't end with military service. It sometimes lasts a lifetime.
BHAGWATIAnd so what we're doing is trying to fix the system so that our veterans are taken care of. There's been a lot more attention, thankfully, to the challenges faced by combat veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. But unfortunately, the VA and Congress has not given the same amount of attention to the tens of thousands of sexual trauma survivors that are coming out of the military each year.
BHAGWATIAnd so we are demanding that Congress take a much deeper look at the sexual trauma claims process. And we know right now that the policies are different for sexual trauma claims within the VA. There's actually a two-tiered system. Policy wise, on the books, it is harder for a rape survivor, assault survivor, harassment survivor to get that sexual trauma PTSD claim passed because they must provide more information than is currently required of combat trauma survivors.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt and go to Mike in Fort Belvoir, Va. on the phone. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEYes, thank you, Kojo. I'm a longtime listener and I’m honored to be on your show. I have a lot of personal experience with the military justice system, both prosecuting and defending these unfortunate cases. And I have a few comments, but I'll try to be brief. Number one, I can't help but feel that in this particular situation, one bad apple seems to be ruining the whole bunch. I acknowledge that there are sexual assaults in the military, however there is no empirical data that would since show that they occur more prevalently in the military than they would, say, on a college campus or in the public in general.
NNAMDIWell, let's deal with that one at a time. Is there such empirical data at all, Anu Bhagwati?
BHAGWATIThere's enough to indicate that the rates of sexual assault are occurring at a higher rate in the military, but I really don't think that's the point, right? I mean, the military should be the standard by which we sort of judge our society. You know, the military has often stepped forward in the case of racial integration, you know, with this recent change to repeal don't-ask-don't tell. The military can be sort of a beacon, right, of the way American society should operate.
BHAGWATIThe real question is why is there such limited access to justice for service members who volunteer in this day and age...
BHAGWATI...for service and to go off to war? We don't have the same -- as service members, we don't have the same access to the federal justice system. I think that's the key point, right. There's...
BHAGWATI...the deterrents available in the civilian system, you know, to rapists, to employers who encourage or condone rape or other forms of -- you know, other torts, those deterrents are not available. They're not in the military system.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt and go back to Mike because he wasn't finished. The military has a unit designated to prevent an addressed sexual assault. It's called the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office or SAPRO. We reached out to SAPRO for today's show, but didn't get a response. We're planning on having SAPRO join us to discuss how the military handles prevention awareness training and how they help victims through the trauma, but that's going to be for a later broadcast. Back to Mike in Fort Belvoir. Mike, you had another issue.
MIKEWell, yes. First of all, the military justice system is a federal justice system. And if the speaker would like to discuss parity between the civilian and military systems, honestly the parity would be raising the civilian system up to the standards of the military system. Because military justice system affords many more protections, both to the accused and the accuser, than the civilian system ever would.
MIKESo really if we're talking about the Feres bar, the victims in these situations are not barred from civilly bringing suit against their alleged attackers. There is no bar for a civil suit in that kind of case. The only kind of bar that the Feres bar enacts is preventing service members from suing the federal government. So I guess my question to the speaker would be, you know, I'm at a loss for exactly how it would be that they're going to get any relief from suing the Department of Defense. And like you said, Kojo, there is a SAPRO program. There are special victim prosecutors assigned to all cases...
NNAMDIOkay, okay. We only have limited time. Anu Bhagwati, there are several lawsuits pending over the military's handling of sexual assault. Mike was indicating that he couldn't figure out how could that be. You can answer that.
BHAGWATIWell, there are several lawsuits pending, but, you know, the first lawsuit that I think you're referring to that, you know, was holding Secretary Gates and Rumsfeld, our prior Secretaries of Defense, accountable for the high rates of sexual assault and the lack of justice of the plaintiffs, you know, we're seeing that that case was tossed out. It's being appealed, but because of the Feres Doctrine that the caller was referring to, I mean you know, if the Federal Tort Claims Act was revised, if there were an exception for service members in cases of sexual assault and, say, medical malpractice, I think we would see an enormous climate change in the military, you know.
BHAGWATIThe military's concern about the Feres Doctrine is really, you know, you don't want service members on the battlefield, for example, questioning, you know, the orders of their platoon sergeants or their commanders, right? I mean, there's a reason that the chain of command exists in the military. It's necessary, especially in an operational environment, for good order and discipline. The problem really occurs -- the problem here is with personnel issues and what we would call civil rights issues.
BHAGWATIYou know, the Feres Doctrine is an enormous barrier to progress in the military when it comes to sex discrimination, when it comes to sexual assault and harassment and racial discrimination, when it comes to medical malpractice. I mean, we have, you know, very high profile cases of doctors committing gross negligence on the operating table and the victims and their families have no recourse. You now, this is a huge problem and it's holding the military back.
NNAMDIYeah, we did an entire show about that back in February and people can go into our archives. At some point, I'm going to give you the specific date on which we did that show. But we're running out of time very quickly, Anu Bhagwati. Mike, thank you for your call. Anu, finally, some say that part of the problem is that women are excluded from combat. How is that part of a problem? What is the implication of that for women's leadership prospects in the military?
BHAGWATIWell, the combat exclusion policy still bans women's opportunities to serve in extremely prestigious assignments. And, you know, what we're advocating for is to open up these assignments, such as the infantry, the artillery, tanks and Special Forces, to qualify women. And there are qualified women who are extremely interested in joining these assignments. And there's no reason -- I mean, it's simply un-American not to allow them to serve in these units.
BHAGWATII mean, the military's right to integrate. You know, we're seeing the Marine Corps opening up infantry officer corps. I never thought that, you know, in my lifetime, I would see this happen. But we're seeing the Army as well open up schools to qualified women. And, you know, why not give them a shot? The problem is when we have these enormous restrictions on women's opportunities, especially in the Marine Corps and in the Army, it limits their career progression, their assignments. It limits the number of awards that they receive, you know, on the battlefield.
BHAGWATIAnd ultimately, you know, what we'd like to see is a military that reflects, you know, the true talent of the all-volunteer force. And women need to be in senior positions.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're out of time in -- I'm afraid we're out of time in this segment. Anu Bhagwati, thank you for joining us.
BHAGWATIThank you very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnu Bhagwait is the executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, SWAN. It's an advocacy organization for service women in the armed forces. Anu Bhagwati is a Marine Corp veteran who left the service at the rank of captain in 2004. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will meet the director and producer of the film "The Invisible War," which has served to raise the profile of this issue significantly. You can still call us, 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Are you in the military? What's been your experience of how incidents, sexual assault or others, are reported and addressed? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation. We're discussing sexual assault and how it is handled in the military. On February 20, we did a show on military medical malpractice. You can go into our archives to find that topic, if you'd like to listen to it. As we move on in this discussion, joining us in studio is Kirby Dick. He is an Academy and Emmy Award nominated documentary director. His most recent film, "The Invisible War" won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Kirby Dick, thank you for joining us again.
MR. KIRBY DICKVery pleased to be with you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Amy Ziering. She is producer of "The Invisible War," which opens June 22 at the Landmark East Street Cinema. Amy Ziering, thank you for joining us.
MS. AMY ZIERINGThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAgain, we'll take your calls at 800-433-8850. Kirby, you've done a number of films investigating controversial topics. This film looks at the handling of sexual assault in the military. Why did you decide to tackle this issue?
DICKWell, we initially found out about the subject reading an article by Helen Benedict in Salon several years ago and were astounded to learn the number of assaults that were happening, and that had been happening over the last really several generations. We were equally astounded that no film had been made on this subject, no feature film. And we could see that this is an issue that had really been covered up by the military for several generations. So it was at that point that we decided really we wanted to make a film on this subject.
NNAMDIBeing a victim of an assault or a sexual assault anywhere is a challenge, but what is the particular challenge of being a victim of a sexual assault in the military?
DICKWell, in the military, unlike in the civilian world, if you're assaulted you -- still in the military you cannot leave and go and say -- go with your friend, go spend time with your mother. You may find yourself working side by side with your perpetrator or perhaps it's your perpetrator (sic) who's assaulted you. And so you're still under that perpetrator's command.
NNAMDIAmy, the issue that comes up again and again in this film is what happens once the assault is reported. What response did some of the victims profiled in the film get when they reported being raped?
ZIERINGOh, there was immediate reprisals and, you know, they were discounted and disbelieved. That was sort of the universal experience of the over 75 survivors that I talked to about their personal experiences.
NNAMDIWell, let's take a listen to some of those voices talking about those experiences from the film "The Invisible War."
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1I got there in February. By April, I was drugged and raped for the first time.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2I had like a cold or pneumonia-like symptoms and so they sent me to get checked out. And while I was waiting to be examined, he came in and he helped himself.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3He said he was going to the bathroom and he came into my room and that's when he raped me.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 4The entire time, I was screaming and yelling for help and for him to stop nobody came to the door. Nobody came to help me, came to my rescue or anything.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 5They made it very, very clear that if I said anything, they were going to kill me, you know. And then, of course, I didn't have anyone to go talk to because the people that were perpetrating me were the police.
NNAMDIThe voices you heard, they were Trina McDonald, U.S. Navy, Jessica Henvies (sp?) , U.S. Air Force, Hannah Sewell, U.S. Navy, Robin Lynn Lafayette, U.S. Air Force. Amy Ziering, the military functions on mutual trust and a sense of brotherhood, if you will. How does that make the assault worse?
ZIERINGWell, the impact really psychologically is compounded by that because they interpret it almost, we've been told by psychologists and therapists who study this, as an assault that feels more like incest rather than a conventional sexual assault. And that's much profounder betrayal of trust. So it has much -- it has devastating psychological consequences.
NNAMDIKirby Dick, a lot of victims suffer from serious trauma as a result. Some of the people you interviewed for this film are facing psychological impacts years later. Can you talk about that?
DICKWell, yes. Most of the men and women that we spoke to suffer from very severe PTSD. Nearly all of them had attempted suicide once or, in many cases, numerous times. They're all -- most of them are very agoraphobic, afraid to be in public at certain times. It's devastating. Many of them are unable to even now hold a job, even five or ten years after the assault. They are survivors and this is something that has devastated them really their entire lives.
NNAMDIOne more point I'd like to get to before we get back to the telephones, and the lines are filled. So if you'd like to join the conversation, go to our website, kojoshow.org or send us a Tweet @kojoshow. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy, military sexual trauma is not limited to women. In fact, it would appear the majority are men. Talk about that.
ZIERINGYeah, early on, we did learn that statistically it's equally significant for men to be assault survivors as women.
NNAMDIIn terms of pure numbers, there are more men who have reported being sexually assaulted than women. Is that correct, Kirby?
DICKThat is correct. Obviously, in terms of the rate of assault, it's less than men. But in terms of absolute numbers, somewhat more men than women are assaulted in the military.
NNAMDIOkay. Back to the telephones. There are a lot of people who would like to weigh in on this issue. We will start with Kristy in Maryland. Kristy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KRISTYHi. Thanks so much for having me on the phone. I'm actually active duty military and I was a former Sexual Assault Prevention Response representative for my command. So I definitely have (word?) this issue before. I want to thank "The Invisible War" team that put this movie together. I just heard it's amazing. I actually know someone that's featured in the movie.
KRISTYI absolutely think it's still an issue to leave the authority of reporting to the chain of command, but I think one thing that needs to be realized is sometimes we have these commands that are fully deployed. They're off the coast of Africa or they're in an isolated base. And to bring the investigation up to a higher chain of command, it would require removing the victim and the alleged perpetrator from that command. And with that, you lose the anonymity that’s really important for the victim to keep. So...
NNAMDIWhat would you suggest in a situation like that, having been a former SAPRO officer?
KRISTYIt's a really tough situation. You know, I don't know if there's a solution at this point. I can tell you, though, that the case that I've been involved with, it was taken very seriously. Unfortunately, most of the command found out who was involved 'cause we were deployed. The perpetrator was removed from the command, but I don't think that his career necessarily ended. And there was no civil lawsuit that was filed.
KRISTYSo it is a very tough situation but I think that's one thing that we can't really avoid, especially when we do start having women some of these fully deployed, like your previous panel member was talking about having been fully deployed in Afghanistan. That you're in very isolated situations and it'd be very difficult to remove the victim without everyone in that command knowing what happened.
NNAMDIKristy, thank you very much for your call, for sharing that with us. Kirby Dick, that's one of the issues that is addressed in this film.
DICKYes. And I think the caller's right. It is more complex in deployed areas. But actually most of these assaults happen stateside. I mean, the people seem to -- I think there's been an impression that more of these assaults are happening in theaters of war. And actually, that's not the case. So we strongly believe that -- and we applaud Secretary Panetta for moving the decision-making process up the level of the chain of command.
DICKBut we still think there's a great opportunity for a conflict of interest there and it should be moved entirely out of the chain of command whenever possible. I mean, this is the way it's done in every other judicial system in this country. There's no reason the military can't do it this way as well.
NNAMDIAnd you mentioned that it doesn't necessarily take place in theaters abroad. The U.S. Marine barracks right here in Washington, D.C. is the Marine Corps' oldest and most prestigious post, home to the Marine Corp Commander. But as you indicate in this film, it's also heavily steeped in behaviors that contribute to this problem. What goes on here?
DICKWell, what we found in doing our research is that there was -- most of the women that we spoke with experienced extreme harassment. One in fact said that the harassment was worse than the experience of being in war, and we were astounded and appalled that this was happening at our most prestigious base.
NNAMDISome allege, Amy Ziering, that the culture of the military seems to contribute to the problem. Is rape simply tolerated in the military? Is that the suggestion here?
ZIERINGNo. I don't think that's the suggestion, but I do think there are cultural aspects to it that do sort of create perfect storm conditions, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that rape is tolerated in the military. We spoke to numerous, you know, and the film has screened, and there's, you know, many soldiers are equally, you know, shocked, and repelled, and horrified that this behavior goes on and would love to have the tools to stop it and the resources and sort of better safeguards in place to ensure that the numbers are greatly reduced.
NNAMDIYou talk about a culture of mandatory drinking here, bar hopping, that's paid for by the Marine Corps?
DICKYeah. We spoke to several female Marines who were at Marine Barracks Washington, and over the years, over a period of years, and they spoke about this. It wasn't exactly mandatory, but it was very, very strongly encourage, and when an officer encourages you to do something, it's oftentimes the best is to follow that encouragement. And so it was -- drinking oftentimes to the point of passing out, and this encouragement of this drinking oftentimes led to situations where assaults followed.
ZIERINGAnd incredible pressure to drink, even if it's not explicitly mandatory, it was implicitly culturally mandatory, so that would answer your culture question. It was subtle things like that.
NNAMDIOnto Sal in Annandale, Va. Sal, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SALYes. The question I have has to do more with a comment (unintelligible) , yes. The problem seems to be that there needs to be a couple of things that have to be done along the lines of having some type of profile -- psychological profile done that can be inserted into the recruitment process of these commanders that are selected for the position as commanders, and then even going beyond that, why not during the time -- during this intern period, since it's becoming a major epidemic, why not just have a line of female -- a straight female chain of command separate from men all together, number two.
SALNumber three, there shouldn't be opportunities where a man and a woman are seen or occupying the same space or being seen in the same area by themselves. There shouldn't be a situation where a woman has to go to the room of another officer where she's by herself. There should be some preliminary precautionary measures inserted into the day-to-day routine between the male and female. But my ultimate thing would say look let's make a straight line of female chain of command until this problem is solved because, you know, this should never happen to one -- happening to one person is one too much.
NNAMDIIn the film, you know, some female commanders say that their male superiors say they are too sympathetic to rape victims, right, Kirby Dick?
DICKThat the -- I'm sorry, I didn't follow that.
NNAMDIIn the film some female commanders said that their male superiors claim that they, the females, were too sympathetic to rape victims.
DICKThe female commanders were too sympathetic, yes.
DICKWell, this is one of the challenges of being -- still being a female in the military is that it is a male-dominated culture, and you have -- there is an incredible pressure to become a part of that culture. And so oftentimes, we heard anecdotally that sometimes female commanders were even less sympathetic to female rape victims than male commanders were. But what I would like to say is that this is something that most commanders -- most commanders are actually horrified by this, and Amy and I had this experience in talking with our subjects that they would -- oftentimes they would say I was in place and it was the perfect experience.
DICKI love my commander, there was really no problem whatsoever with harassment or sexual assault at all. And then we asked, well, why, and they would say, I had a commander who did not allow this to happen. So there's no question that most commanders are really horrified by this, and in fact, many of the commanders that have seen the movie have been very supportive of it, because they want this to change in the military.
NNAMDIAnd I'm sure there are people who are listening and who may not have yet called who would ask do you make a distinction between rape victims, or victims of sexual assault, and alleged rape victims, or alleged victims of sexual assault.
ZIERINGDo we in the film, or...
ZIERINGNo, we don't. But we did research all our cases. We knew going forward we had to sort of have unimpeachable cases to present, so we're confident that we have the evidence to back up the claims.
NNAMDISal, thank you very much for your call. Onto Claire in Washington D.C. Claire, your turn.
CLAIREHi. I am a survivor of sexual assault in the military. I was a Marine and my case was not prosecuted by the U.S. military, but did take place off base and was prosecuted by the District Attorney, and ultimately the perpetrator pled guilty and went to prison, sentenced for three years. And I moved onto sort of looking at this issue broadly in terms of the U.S. military and how -- or sort of looking at this issue and in some ways as it affects like the tactical employment of females and how do we strategically integrate women into the military when we have this huge issue of sexual assault.
CLAIREAnd I just wanted to say that while I think there's a huge cultural problem in the military in relation to this, I also see it being a huge problem culturally in the U.S. and that, you know, sexual assault victims who report sexual assault to the police department are not treated particularly well either, and certainly I expect in response to the previous caller, I don't expect women to have to be like afraid of being around men in the U.S. military. We should be able to hold the people who serve in the U.S. military to a standard high enough as to expect them not to commit sexual assault.
CLAIREBut as a U.S. citizen, I don't think it's too much to ask that we also hold U.S. citizens to that standard and that we as citizens sort of learn to face the reality of this issue, that it exists beyond the U.S. military, and these statistics are terrifying. The college campus statistics are pretty terrifying too.
NNAMDIOkay. Got to take a short break. When we come back we will return to that aspect of the issue. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can go to our website kojoshow.org. Claire, thank you very much for your call. The number is 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Kirby Dick. He is an Academy- and Emmy-award nominated documentary director. His most recent film "The Invisible War," one the audience awarded the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It deals with sexual assault in the military. Also in studio with us is Amy Ziering. She is producer of "The Invisible War." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWe got this email from Chance who says, "With due respect to the callers who are military lawyers and say they feel the issue is exaggerated, in my eight years of service I saw plenty of serious issues swept under the rug. Officers in their positions never would have even seen these issues because they never got past the squad, platoon, or company level. I can't help but feel they're being a little naïve." What do you say, Amy?
ZIERINGYeah. I've been sort of surprised by some of the comments made by some of the callers, and especially this sort of recurring pattern of people saying it happens with equal rights at college universities. Two things, one, there's no impediment to reporting at college universities, so that even the fact that the militaries are on par with college universities, where in the military there's huge impediments to reporting should suggest that actually they're not on par at all. I mean, that's sort of staggering, and I don't really want people to think that.
ZIERINGI mean, one thing that's happened that's prevented any traction happening on this issue is people think, well, it's a cultural problem, don't hold the military to a higher standard. And if there were real statistics on reporting, the military statistics would far outweigh civilian statistics. I mean, that's clear because there's so many reprisals and consequences from reporting. We even had a montage in our film of all the people saying, oh, you want a report? Well, we're gonna hit you with a drinking charge. Oh, you want a report? Well, that's infidelity.
ZIERINGOh, you want a report? Well, you know, we'll take away this and that from you. So who knows what the real numbers are. I want to really put that on the table. And then second, I want to also say that the impact of an assault is categorically different for people within the military for all the reasons that Kirby and I and some of the callers and you have discussed, is that the -- you can't sort of seek the help, you can't seek judicial recourse, and you also often have to report, you know, to work the next day with your perpetrator, and all those things sort of make the impact very different and the consequences.
NNAMDIA lot of the victims, complainants, say that they faced retaliation for reporting the assault. Let's hear a clip about that from the film.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 6When you report something, you better be prepared for the repercussion.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 7Even with the rape kit and everything and my friend catching him raping me, they still didn't believe me.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 8I reported it two different times to my squad leader and he told me that there was nothing he could do about it because I didn't have any proof.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 9They actually did charge me with adultery. I wasn't married. He was.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 10They took me before my lieutenant commander. He says, you think this is funny? And I said, what do you mean? He's like, is this all a joke to you? I was like, what do you mean? And he goes, you're the third girl to report rape this week. Are you guys all in cahoots? You think this is a game?
NNAMDIThe voices we heard, Theresa (word?) Phillips, U.S. Army; Christina Jones, U.S. Army; Tandi (sp?) Fink, U.S. Army; Andrea Warner, U.S. Army; Tia Christopher, U.S. Navy. Here now is Mike in Rockville, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEThank you. First, I wanted to compliment the group for bringing something to light that needs brought to light. As a retired colonel and a former commander, I know that problems do exist. The inflammatory nature makes it sound like it's a pandemic within every command, and I would caution them about that because as someone just previously said, there are commands in which it is known that it's not tolerated, everything is investigated and that's the structure I think that needs addressed as well.
MIKEThe commanders have to be held responsible for a unit in which sexual assault is accepted. So that is cultural and that needs to be made. Just one other quick comment on the Feres Doctrine, the ability for a military member to sue the military is a very slippery slope, and the reason Feres Doctrine is in place is to protect a commander from someone suing because he was put in the line of fire. He was given a duty he feels he shouldn't have been given, and so it's a very difficult thing to balance as to how that can be done.
MIKEMedical malpractice, a family member can sue on the behalf of the service member, but in this individual problem where someone suffers sexual assault, that's correct and that service member cannot sue the government and we need to have a way of having recourse for that. But it's not an easy solution, and the Feres Doctrine does have reasons for being in place, and I think that needs to be recognized too.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Mike. As I pointed out, on February 20 we did a show on military medical malpractice in which the Feres Doctrine was discussed at some length. I don't know if either of you wanted to respond to the comments that Mike made.
DICKWell, I think Mike makes some very good observations. This issue of the Feres Doctrine, there's many reasons why it should be in place, but I think there are some situations where as he suggested, it should not be in place, or certainly not with the same restrictions that are on it right now. This prevents, and particularly in these kind of situations of sexual assault, it really limits these people's rights, and it also -- what change the whole landscape in the corporate world was when people could bring forward these lawsuits around sexual harassment and sexual assault, and you saw sexual harassment and sexual assault decline dramatically over 20 years.
NNAMDIOnto Jane in Springfield, Va. Jane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANEHi. You may have already covered this, but how many sexually assault claims arise out of existing relationships?
NNAMDIIs that something you cover?
DICKThat is not something we cover in our film, no.
ZIERINGThere aren't statistics on that.
JANEThere are none?
DICKWell, that's not something that we cover in our film.
JANEWell, because I would say that, I mean, your panel is speaking with definite gender bias, and I feel like you're already speaking, as many of your other callers have said, to just foregone conclusion, and it definitely seems gender biased. And I do wonder -- I mean, in our population, there has to be statistics on how many rapes or claims of rape occur, you know, from people that they know that are there involved in relationships and that went too far and whatever, but...
ZIERINGI think it's two percent of all rape claims are false in society at large. So it's a very small -- it's statistically insignificant. I hear what you're saying, and yes there are incidents, but they -- so the records don't show that that's...
NNAMDIWere any of the cases that you covered in "Invisible War" the result of an intimate relationship between the two individuals?
ZIERINGNot of any of the subjects in our film.
JANEBut, I mean, was that by choice, or those were, I mean, did you pick those or were there none?
ZIERINGI spoke to 70 to a hundred people, and of those there were none. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, that's just sort of the sampling of the people who wrote into me. There were none that were an ex-husband or a boyfriend or a complicated situation.
DICKCertainly though, that is a significant problem as well. I mean, you're absolutely right in highlighting that. It absolutely is. We were focusing on -- our subjects in particular had a different experience.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly. Amy, can you tell us a little bit about the coalition called Invisible No More?
ZIERINGYes. We realized that this film had such incredible power as an advocacy tool, so we wanted to figure out how to have it have a life and leverage long beyond its theatrical release which is in like 18 days in four cities. So we decided to sort of forge a coalition of existing NGOs and non-profits to sort of keep the issue alive and have stake in it and sort of keep it moving forward. So our website is www.invisiblenomore.org.
NNAMDIAnd "The Invisible War" opens June 22 at the Landmark E Street Cinema. We reached out to the organization SAPRO, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in the military. We hope to have that organization for a future broadcast. Kirby Dick, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAmy Ziering, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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