LOS ANGELES Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering explore rape within the U.S. military in the documentary "The Invisible War", which opens in select movie theaters on Friday.
With more than 3,000 sexual assault cases reported in the U.S. military in 2011, according to the Defense Department, and estimates by officials that the problem could be six times greater than reported, it's a matter that Dick and Ziering feel can no longer be swept under the rug.
The duo, who exposed closeted politicians who opposed gay rights in the 2009 film "Outrage", talked with Reuters about their latest endeavor.
Q: With such a sensitive topic, how did you find your subjects?
Dick: "We contacted therapists, vet centers, victim advocates, attorneys to try and get in contact with anybody who'd been assaulted in the military. Most of our efforts went into the Internet, working through Facebook and Google searches .... We ended up contacting over 100 people."
Q: How did you decide who to ultimately feature?
Ziering: "We knew we wanted people as contemporary and as young as possible so the Department of Defense couldn't say that this was a problem in the past that has now been corrected. We knew the (victims) had to have unimpeachable evidence and cases that were unassailable so we would not have any backlash ourselves. They also had to be strong enough and recovered enough from the trauma to withstand public scrutiny that could come with being part of a film project."
Q: What is the difference between rape in the civilian world and rape in the military world?
Ziering: "When you get raped in civilian life, you go to a court that's independent and unbiased to seek justice and recourse. When you get raped in the military, your only recourse is to go to your commander, who knows you and likely knows your rapist.
"When you're raped in the military, you have to go to work the next day, your rapist has not yet been charged, he's usually a comrade, a buddy or a higher ranking official. You have to keep working with him. That's psychologically traumatizing and damaging."
Dick: "You also can't leave your job. You can't go stay with your parents, your best friend .... You feel like you're in a hellish environment where there's no way out."
Q: Do you think there has been a cover-up in regards to rape in the military?
Dick: "Yes, I do. Many people at very high levels were aware of this problem for a long time. When reporting would come up, the military would always deny that there was a problem and then try to minimize it.
"It's a systemic problem. The military, the Pentagon, the Department of Defense up until now have not taken on this issue and gone after these perpetrators, who are serial perpetrators. ... They have not gone after them with the same will that they fight a war. These are the enemies within."
Q: What needs to be done?
Dick: "(The rapists need to be) investigated, prosecuted and incarcerated. We wanted to make this film so that it would reach policy makers and those policy makers would initiate the change that would protect millions of troops that are at risk protecting us."
Q: The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and won the audience award. How do you leverage something like that going forward?
Dick: "Immediately after Sundance we knew we had a film that could impact people and hopefully cause change. Amy and I undertook a strategic campaign to get the film to all levels of the military .... Eventually it got to the hands of the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, who saw the film. Two days later he held a press conference and announced some significant changes.
Q: Is this an anti-military film?
Dick: "This is not an anti-military film. It's a very strong critique on one aspect of the military. But the military can address this problem. They have much more control over their service members than civilian society has over its citizens. Military men are young, impressionable and can be taught these values (toward rape) just like all the other core values the military teaches. It will not only make for a stronger and better military, but a better society as well."
(Reporting by Zorianna Kit; editing by Jill Serjeant and Richard Chang)