Because Thoroughly Tackling the Topic of Military Sexual Assault is No Small Feat: The Invisible War is Nominated for an Oscar

If you had told me ten years ago that rape in the U.S. military would become a mainstream topic, I’d have laughed at you.

Decade after decade, after each sexual assault scandal such as Tailhook or the Air Force Academy, politicians would trumpet their outrage and military officials would swear they’d muster reform, like a hardened criminal making desperate, insincere promises to a parole board.

In 2003, while Miles Moffeit and I were researching for,  “Betrayal in the Ranks,” our three-part series about military sexual assault and domestic violence, reporters in Kentucky called us with a cautionary tale of how their publisher pulled a similar story of theirs, axing it because the U.S. had invaded Iraq and it seemed unpatriotic to call the military to task.

Thankfully, that love affair is over.

invisible warLast January, a film premiered at Sundance called “The Invisible War.” It tackled the crisis of sexual assaults within the U.S. military and dissected it with a painstaking, surgical attention to detail.

The filmmakers invited me to attend the premier because I’m interviewed in the film about my work covering the issue of military sexual assault, primarily the series I coauthored with Miles called “Betrayal in the Ranks.”

Afterward, I listened to all the talk from the politicians and the military officials, inwardly rolled my eyes, and waited for the apathy to once again roll in.

Well, halleluiah, my cynicism has been smacked down.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta viewed the film on April 14, 2012.  Two days later, Panetta ordered that all military sexual assault cases were to be handled by senior officers, ostensibly taking such cases away from potentially biased commanders who wouldn’t want the notoriety or disruption of a sexual assault investigation in their own unit.

Then over the summer, the Marines put together a new protocol for combating sexual assault. And just this month, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for this fiscal year. This time, it included reforms aimed at the issue of military sexual assault, including policies to prevent retaliation against those who report.

Meanwhile, the public and the media have flung themselves fully into the fray, backing “The Invisible War” with enthusiastic reviews and using social media to propel the issue forward.

Now “The Invisible War” has oh so deservedly been nominated for an Oscar.  As a result, I’m heartened that a whole new audience will now pay attention–and that someday, soldiering in the U.S. will no longer be associated with rape.

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