Willimantic, Conn. – A showing of the award-winning documentary “The Invisible War,” followed by a panel discussion of Eastern Connecticut State University administrators with military and veteran-support experience, took place in the J. Eugene Smith Library on March 3.
The critically acclaimed 2012 documentary examines the “epidemic of rape” within the U.S. military. While the film acknowledges military sexual violence is perpetrated against both men and women, “The Invisible War” focuses mostly on the testimonials of servicewomen who were raped by their male counterparts and superiors and then discriminated against upon reporting the incidents.
In different yet similar accounts, recurring themes emerged in which these servicewomen’s lives and careers were threatened if they did not sexually comply; they received pressure not to file reports after the incident(s); when reported, their claims were dismissed by higher-ups; they were called liars; they were blamed for being raped; and they received virtually no support or justice.
Director of Eastern’s Veterans Educational Transition Services Center Lawrence Schmitz, a Navy veteran of 20 years, said that within the military is an older generation of members with a lot of power and status who do not appreciate having women in military service. “Truthfully, there is a ‘good old boys’ mentality among many older members,” he said. “They are either unaware of the way things are or refuse to change, and their resistance is surely a barrier when it comes to holding offenders accountable.”
On the topic of solutions, the director of Eastern’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Maureen McDonnell, said victims advocacy agencies can help victims to navigate the system to obtain justice. “Though this is a resource, there are still many barriers,” she said.
In regards to the restructuring of the military justice system, Maria Busineau, program manager of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Eastern Connecticut, said there are two bills currently under review that would introduce investigation and prosecution of these cases by outside entities. “However, this process is at the beginning stages,” she said. “It may be years before the changes, if any, are actually implemented.”