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The Invisible War
File:The Invisible War Poster.png
Directed by Kirby Dick
Produced by Amy Ziering
Tanner King Barklow
Written by Kirby Dick
Music by Mary J. Blige
Cinematography Thaddeus Wadleigh
Kirsten Johnson
Editing by Douglas Blush
Derek Boonstra
Studio Chain Camera Pictures
Distributed by Cinedigm
Docurama Films
Release date(s) January 20, 2012 (Sundance Film Festival)
June 22, 2012 (USA)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Invisible War is a 2012 documentary film written and directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering and Tanner King Barklow about sexual assault in the United States military. It premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the U.S. Documentary Audience Award.[1] The film is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards.[2]


In 2010, 108,121 veterans screened positive for military sexual trauma, and 68,379 had at least one Veterans Health Administration outpatient visit for related conditions. Also in 2010, The Department of Defense processed reports of 3,198 new assaults but estimated the actual number of assaults to be closer to 19,000. However, these reports only resulted in convictions against 244 perpetrators.[3]


The Invisible War features interviews with veterans from multiple branches of the United States Armed Forces who recount the events surrounding their assaults. Their stories show many common themes, such as the lack of recourse to an impartial justice system, reprisals against survivors instead of against perpetrators, the absence of adequate emotional and physical care for survivors, the unhindered advancement of perpetrators' careers, and the forced expulsion of survivors from service.

Interspersed with these first person testimonies are interviews with advocates, journalists, mental health professionals, active duty and retired generals, Department of Defense officials, and members of the military justice system. The film also includes footage, often shot by the veterans themselves, which documents their lives and continuing struggles in the aftermath of their assaults.

In the film's most prominent narrative, Coast Guard veteran Seaman Kori Cioca struggles to earn benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for the many medical difficulties that have resulted from her rape. With the help of attorney Susan L. Burke, Cioca, along with other survivors featured in the film, brings a civil suit against the Department of Defense alleging a failure to adequately address sexual assault within the military.

The Invisible War also recounts several current and past incidents of sexual abuse, such as the 1991 Navy Tailhook scandal, the 1996 Army Aberdeen scandal, and the 2003 Air Force Academy scandal, and argues that the military has consistently made empty promises to address its high rate of sexual assault. These stories culminate with an examination of the previously unreported[4] culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault at the prestigious Marine Barracks Washington.

The survivors and advocates featured in the film call for changes to the way the military handles sexual assault, such as shifting prosecution away from unit commanders, who often are either friends with assailants or are assailants themselves.


People interviewed in The Invisible War include:

Members of Congress

Military personnel

  • Major General Mary Kay Hertog, Director, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office
  • Dr. Kaye Whitley, Former Director, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office
  • Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta, Director, Military Plans and Policy
  • General Claudia Kennedy, US Army (Retired)
  • Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught, US Air Force (Retired)
  • Brigadier General Loree Sutton, M.D., US Army (Retired)
  • Major General Dennis Laich, US Army (Retired)


Due to multiple decade long efforts by organizations that focus on Military Sexual Trauma such as the Military Rape Crisis Center, the Service Women Action Network and My Duty to Speak, changes have been made in the way sexual assault is handled in the US Military.[5]

Susan Burke LLC law firm and the organization Protect Our Defenders was heralded for exposing a culture of widespread sexual harassment and sexual assault at Marine Barracks Washington.[4][6][7] In March 2012, eight women, including two who appeared in the film, filed suit against military leaders for maintaining an environment that tolerates rapists while silencing survivors.[8]

Panetta viewed the film on April 14, 2012.[9][10] On April 16, 2012, Secretary Panetta issued a directive ordering all sexual assault cases to be handled by senior officers at the rank of colonel or higher.[11]

On June 25, 2012, the Marine Corps unveiled a new plan to combat sexual assault. In July, Marine Corps Commandant General James F. Amos met with all non-deployed Marine generals to review the new procedures, which seek to discourage unsafe environments while increasing reporting.[12][13]

On January 4, 2013, thanks to the advocacy work of the Military Rape Crisis Center and Service Women Action Network, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. This law included many improvements to the military's handling of sexual assault cases, such as barring individuals with felony sex abuse convictions from receiving enlistment waivers, forming special victims units to investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases, and installing new policies to prevent professional retaliation against assault survivors.[14][15]


The Invisible War received widespread acclaim from critics.[16][17] At the end of 2012, it held a 100% Fresh rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which also listed it as the #1 film of the year[18].

The film appeared on numerous year-end best lists, including in The New York Times, Time, and the National Board of Review. [19][20][21]. The Chicago Film Critics Association named it the Best Documentary of 2012.[22]

The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Rainer observed that the film broke new ground, as it "was the first to really explore the issue of rape in the military" and that "the fact that this subject has taken so long to achieve full-scale exposure was itself symptomatic of the problem." He selected it as one of the top ten films of the year.[23][24]

The Boston Globe’s Christopher Wallenberg noted that The Invisible War "achieved a rare feat for a documentary by breaking a national news story: The alleged coverup of incidents of sexual assault and harassment at the prestigious Marine Barracks Washington." Other critics also focused on the film's investigative journalism[25][26], including A. O. Scott, who wrote in The New York Times that Dick is "one of the indispensable muckrakers of American cinema, zeroing in on frequently painful stories about how power functions in the absence or failure of accountability."[27].

Jonathan Hahn of The Los Angeles Review of Books said, "There are some works of writing or painting, speech, or film that do more than just stand as great works of art. They change things. They put before us something fundamentally wrong with the world — with the society we take for granted, with the institutions on which we depend and that in turn depend on us — and demand change. The Invisible War belongs in that pantheon, and is easily one of the most important films of the year."[28]


The Invisible War came under intense criticism by military sexual trauma survivors and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Two male rape survivors who appear in "The Invisible War," an Oscar-nominated documentary about military sexual assaults, are criticizing the movie's brief focus on male victims as an ironic snub — and, in a fiery diatribe, one of the film's characters says the director "should be ashamed and embarrassed."[29]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Organization Category Result
2012 Audience Award Sundance Film Festival Best Documentary Won[30][31]
Nestor Almendros Award Human Rights Watch Film Festival Courage in Filmmaking Won[32]
Silver Heart Award Dallas International Film Festival Humanitarian Award Won[33]
Audience Award Seattle International Film Festival Best Documentary Won[34]
Audience Award Provincetown International Film Festival Best Documentary Feature Won[35]
IDA Award International Documentary Association Best Feature Nominated[36]
2013 Spirit Award Film Independent Best Documentary Nominated[37]
WGA Award Writers Guild of America Best Documentary Screenplay Nominated[38]
Academy Award Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Documentary Feature Nominated[2]
DGA Award Directors Guild of America Documentary Directing Nominated[39]


  1. "The Invisible War at Sundance Film Festival". Retrieved 2012-05-30.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Oscars 2013: Complete list of nominees". The Los Angeles Times. January 10, 2013.,0,1532667.story. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  3. "Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military: Fiscal Year 2010". Department of Defense. Retrieved 2012-05-30.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ellison, Jese (2012-03-06). "Panetta, Gates, Rumsfeld Face New Suit Over U.S. Military Rape 'Epidemic'". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  5. Parrish, Karen (2012-01-18). "Panetta Pledges to Hold Sexual Assault Offenders Accountable". American Forces Press Service. Retrieved 2012-05-30.
  6. Dawson, Stephanie (2012-06-19). "Film Review: The Invisible War". Limité. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  7. Honeycutt, Kirk (2012-05-31). "'The Invisible War'". 'Honeycutt's Hollywood. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  8. Standifer, Cid (2012-03-06). "Military women’s lawsuit alleges rape, assault". Army Times. Retrieved 2012-05-30.
  9. Ellison, Jese (2012-06-11). "The Invisible War Filmmaker Kirby Dick Takes on the Pentagon". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  10. Pond, Steve (2012-06-18). "Military Rape Documentary 'Invisible War' Leads to Policy Changes Before Its Opening". The Wrap. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  11. {{cite web | url = | title = Panetta, Dempsey Announce Initiatives to Stop Sexual Assault | last = Daniel | first = Lisa | publisher = American Forces Press Service | date = 2012-04-16
  12. Hlad, Jennifer (2012-06-25). "Marines release new plan to prevent sexual assault". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  13. "THE AMOS PLANS: Generals Will Lead USMC's Fight Against Sexual Assaults; Young Corporals and Seargeants Get Suicide Prevention…It's Gonna be a Tough Year". The Military Suicide Report. 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  14. Bennett, John (2013-01-03). "Obama signs sequestration delay, defense bill". Army Times. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  15. "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 Wrap-Up". Invisible No More. 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  16. "The Invisible War at Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  17. "The Invisible War at Metacritic". Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  18. "Top 100 Movies of 2012". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  19. Holden, Stephen (2012-12-16). "The Year of the Body Vulnerable". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  20. Corliss, Richard (2012-12-04). "The Invisible War". Top 10 Everything of 2012. Time. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  21. "2012 NBR Awards Announced". National Board of Review. 2012-12-05. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  22. Benzine, Adam (December 17, 2012). ""Invisible War" feted by Chicago Critics". real screen. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  23. Rainer, Peter (June 27, 2012). "The Invisible War: movie review". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  24. Rainer, Peter (December 21, 2012). "The best films of 2012". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  25. Kim, Jonathan (2012-06-20). "ReThink Interview: Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering on The Invisible War". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  26. Bittencourt, Ela (2012-06-13). "Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2012: The Invisible War". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  27. Scott, A. O. (2012-06-21). "For Some Who Served, an Awful Betrayal of Trust: 'The Invisible War,' directed by Kirby Dick". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-01-00.
  28. Hahn, Jonathan (June 22nd, 2012). "Jonathan Hahn interviews Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick". The Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  29. "'Betrayed': Male rape victims slam Oscar-nominated filmmakers over focus on women". NBC News'. February 13th, 2013. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  30. Jonathan Riskind (February 26, 2012). "Collins, Snowe rank as least conservative GOP senators". Maine Sunday Telegram (MaineToday Media, Inc.; Retrieved March 4, 2012.
  31. "British film continues to shine at Sundance". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group Limited; February 8, 2012. Retrieved March 4, 2012.
  32. "Sundance: The Invisible War at The Human Rights Watch Film Festival". Retrieved 2013-01-08.
  33. Libresco, Caroline. "Silver Heart Award Winner: The Invisible War". Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  34. "SIFF 2012 Award Winners". Retrieved 2013-01-08.
  35. "Provincetown International Film Festival". Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  36. "IDA Documentary Awards 2012". Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  37. Walsh, Barry (November 27, 2012). "Five docs vying for Spirit Award". Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  38. Kilday, Gregg (January 4, 2012). "WGA Announces Nominations Ranging from 'Lincoln' to 'Looper'". Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  39. Ford, Rebecca (January 14, 2013). "DGA Awards Documentary Nominations Announced". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 16 January 2013.

External links

Template:Kirby Dick

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