On March 25, UTSA Student Health Services hosted a screening and panel discussion for the critically acclaimed documentary “The Invisible War.” The panel consisted of Jennifer Tristan from the Rape Crisis Center, Michelle Klein from UTSA Counseling Services and sexual assault investigator Leonard Flaun.
The film investigated the failure of the U.S. armed forces to respond appropriately to the growing instances of sexual assault in the military and features interviews with over 100 service members — both male and female — who were assaulted while serving their country.
The first goal of the film was to reveal that the victims of military sexual assault are trapped in close quarters with their attackers.
Unlike the randomly selected jury of civilian court, a court-martial consists of military officers who are often familiar with the accused. Many of the veterans in the film claimed that the period following their assault was often as — if not more — scarring than the assault itself because of intense scrutiny.
In response to this part of the documentary, the panel asked the audience, “Why is it important that the film be shown at UTSA?” One of the first observations made was that the environment described by the veterans in the film mirrors the environment of the victims of collegiate sexual assault.
In both instances, the victim often knows the perpetrator(s), lives in a confined area with them, has limited access to a thorough police investigation and is often suppressed by friends of the victims if they attempt to speak out about their assault.
The audience was particularly distressed and angered about the retaliation against victims of sexual assault. One member of the audience, a student and current servicewoman, voiced her frustration with the widely held belief that women need to be responsible for preventing their assaults.
Panelist Jennifer Tristan, an employee of one of San Antonio’s rape crisis centers, commented that many women are afraid to report their rapes out of fear of being treated like a criminal.
The second point made by “Invisible War” was the failure of the military to prosecute rapists or to deliver a just punishment.
A number of the veterans interviewed for the film revealed their rapists were still in the military — many had even advanced in rank.
The film claimed that 20 percent of women and one percent of men who serve in the military will be assaulted and that officers are the ones who serve on court-martials.
The panel then asked the audience a second question. “Military sex offenders that are not caught may return to civilian life and commit these acts on civilians. How does that make you feel?”
The unanimous opinion of the audience was three-pronged.
First, the notion that the military was opening the door for attackers to be release to a much larger population of potential victims should be dealt with swiftly by the U.S. Department of Defense. Second, military attackers should be dealt with by the military.
Finally, the audience also stated that both members of the military and citizenry should be aware that anyone can commit sexual assault.
The producers of “Invisible War” asked the public to understand that even the most patriotic leaders need guidance.