Movie review: 'The Invisible War' goes to battle against military rape


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Each account is haunting and horrifying in its own way in the documentary "The Invisible War" (3-1/2 stars).

However, there is something particularly distressing about Kori Cioca, who wanted to enlist in the U.S. Navy but landed in the Coast Guard due to a shorter waiting period. She considered making it a career until a commanding officer sexually harassed her, broke her jaw and raped her in December 2005.

She was told if she went forward with the case she would be court martialed for lying; her attacker received 30 days of base restriction and loss of pay.

Today, Ms. Cioca suffers from PTSD, has nerve damage to her face the Veterans Administration so far won't pay to repair or ease (forcing her into a years-long soft diet) and knows her ordeal sometimes casts a shadow over her husband and toddler daughter.

The Ohioan is one of the many rape victims -- almost all women along with one man -- identified by name, rank and branch of the military service by filmmaker Kirby Dick.

He uses the Department of Defense's own estimates to underscore the scope of the problem festering inside the military and how nearly impossible it is to get justice when a woman or man must report the crime to the person who committed it or a friend.

In fiscal year 2009, 3,230 women and men reported sexual assault. If that represents just 20 percent of actual attacks, that means the true number is roughly 16,150.

The director, whose "Twist of Faith" earned an Oscar nomination for best documentary of 2004, puts many faces on the crimes.

Among them: Trina McDonald turned down a basketball scholarship in favor of the U.S. Navy and ended up at a remote Alaska station where she was drugged and raped. As a 19-year-old in the U.S. Air Force, on his way to the chow hall, Michael Matthews was struck from behind, raped and told to shut up or be killed. Ariana Klay graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy, served in Iraq and was assigned to the Marine Barracks Washington and raped.

"The Invisible War," which interviews government officials, members of Congress, experts who include many retired military, lawyers and reporters, does not traffic in hysteria but takes a measured tone to its topic.

It doesn't so much champion individual cases -- no Michael Moore-style storming or picketing of the VA, for instance -- as lay out the startling, sickening scope of the problem, examine some ways to better ensure justice and sound a cautionary alarm about assaults that may not stop when attackers enter or leave the military.

We should all pay heed.

A free screening will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Chatham University's Campbell Memorial Chapel, 5799 W. Woodland Road, Shadyside. See www.invisiblewarmovie.com for more information about the film.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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