The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize

2013

The Invisible War

Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have been awarded the 2013 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize for The Invisible War, a groundbreaking investigation into the troubling epidemic of rape in the US military. The film paints a startling picture of the extent of the problem — today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 19,300 service members sexually assaulted in 2010 alone.

Focusing on the powerful stories of rape victims, The Invisible War is a moving indictment of the systemic cover-up of military sex crimes, chronicling the women’s struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. It also features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm of conditions that exist for rape in the military, its long-hidden history, and what can be done to bring about much-needed change.

The Invisible War also reveals the devastating consequences of the reliance on chain of command in military life. While rape victims in the civilian world can turn to an impartial police force and judicial system for help and justice, rape victims in the military must turn to their commanders — a move that is all too often met with foot-dragging at best, and reprisals at worst. Many rape victims find themselves forced to choose between speaking up and keeping their careers. Little wonder that only eight percent of military sexual assault cases are prosecuted.

As A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times, “This is a movie that cannot be ignored… Kirby Dick has become one of the indispensable muckrakers of American cinema.” And commenting on their decision, the Ridenhour judges said, “The Invisible War is an exposé of the shocking prevalence of rape within the US military, and the systemic failure of the armed forces to protect its service members from violent sex crimes. Informative, provocative, and heartrending, The Invisible War is investigative documentary film making at its best. Rarely has a documentary film more completely embodied the spirit of the award which is designed to recognize acts of truth-telling that protects the public interest and promote social justice.”

The Invisible War is a film by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, written and directed by Kirby Dick, and produced by Amy Ziering and Tanner Barklow.

 

  • 2013 Documentary Film Prize Speeches

 

Katrina vanden Heuvel introduces The Invisible War

 

The Invisible War filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick accept The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize


Transcript of Katrina vanden Heuvel's speech:

KATRINA: Thank you, it's an honor to be here. It’s always wonderful to come in from New York into DC into a room like this. I remember ten years ago, Joe Wilson, very small room. Not because of you but because this great award was growing. And I think we thought at that time in the depths of the Bush era that it was the depths of the Bush era. Now we know this is an award that is enduring and is needed now more than ever. And it is an honor to be in a room with fearless DREAMers, with iconoclasts, with extraordinarily patient people like Seth Rosenfeld and to understand that we must respect not convict, try, harass whistleblowers and that this honor goes to people who never stop, who are relentless in that.

I am here to introduce the documentary film The Invisible War. You have copies on your table. Today, an American female soldier in a war zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. One in five of all active duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted. Every year, 19,000 servicemen and women are sexually assaulted. In 2011 alone, the Department of Defense estimated there were 22,800 violent sex crimes in the military. Since 2006, more than 95,000 service members have been sexually assaulted.

These numbers are so staggering as to almost numb us. But the statistics don’t tell us the story. It is this extraordinary film, 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary, The Invisible War. In it, director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering set out to change that, to give us the stories, the human stories, the human voices, giving voice to survivors of military sexual assault. And in their searing, heartbreaking stories of these brave women survivors, these truth-tellers are creating real change.

The film exposes a military culture rife with misogyny and sexual harassment, an institution where rape is an epidemic. And it lays bare the stark reality sexual assault survivors face: reporting these traumatic crimes often lead to even more trauma. They're ignored, interrogated, or ridiculed. These claims are used against them. We learned that victims must sometimes report a rape to their own rapist.

We see the unmarried victim raped by a married man, can be charged with adultery while the rapist goes free. And over and over, we witness the truth of what Susan Brownmiller wrote so many years ago, rape “is not a crime of lust, but of violence and power.” And the result is a military system that makes it easier to rape and to get away with it.

Let me just tell you, because I think often we hear extraordinary stories here, but we don’t see those leading in as quick a way — you heard the great story of what FOIA time is, you've got to mark it in dog years. But in this case, this film has already been a powerful force for change. On April 10, 2012, just two days after watching The Invisible War, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that all sexual assault cases be handled by senior officers, which effectively ended the practice of commanders adjudicating these cases from within their own units. Only one week later, in one of the first official statements ever made by a President on the issue of sexual assault in the military, President Obama called for sexual assault to be thoroughly investigated and for offenders to be held accountable.

And in November 2012, after seven years of fighting, Senator Barbara Boxer successfully pushed through an amendment that would prevent the armed forces from granting waivers to military candidates with a sex crime on their record. [applause] Senator Boxer, who we wished could be here today, credits the film for the amendment’s passage.

Earlier this year during his confirmation hearings, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, yes, affirmed that he had seen The Invisible War and the film was mentioned eight times in recent Senate hearings on sexual assault in the military. So we've seen progress, we've seen progress in a shorter time span than is often the case in this city. And I don’t mean to demean this city because it has people like you sitting in this room. It is a city where courage and conscience and fast pace in terms of building courage and conscience has not been the case.

So we have seen progress. But as we all know in this room you got to build on that progress. And how do you build? We must insist that the investigation and prosecution of these crimes — sex crimes — be completely removed from the military chain of command. Instead, these decisions should be made by military prosecutors trained in sexual assault investigations who cannot be influenced by senior officers in the chain of command. It is common sense — also a quality in short supply these days.

So the film is just the beginning and it’s time for all of us to fight on behalf of those who have fought for us, for the patriots in this film, sisters and brothers, and their hundreds of thousands of fellow servicewomen and men who've endured sexual assault. So let us take a look at a clip of this year’s Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize winner, The Invisible War.

[video]

[applause]

 

Transcript of Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick's speech:

AMY ZIERING: Thank you for bestowing on us this very, very kind honor. We are moved, grateful, and perhaps most importantly, heartened, as this was a film we had been told time and again we should not pursue. This was an issue no one would watch, believe, or care about. We were told not to waste our time, no one would listen. Every day in our US military, according to DOD estimates, 49 men and women are sexually assaulted — not overseas, not in the line of combat, not by the enemy, but here on American soil by their fellow soldiers. And when these men and women step up in good faith to report these crimes, they are more often than not disbelieved, themselves blamed, disavowed, and encouraged to stay silent so that the institution and its commanders can maintain an unblemished façade.

So they bury their pain, confusedly return to work beside their assailants, suffer recurring attacks, often until they more often than not implode, not from the trauma of the assaults themselves, but from the violence of the silence imposed upon them by their inability to speak and share, to be heard and believed by their peers and community.

In the past, when the media has reported assaults in our military, these crimes have been depicted as aberrant, anomalous, the work of rogue soldiers who operate independently and beyond the knowledge and authority of their commanders. The stories flare up — Tail Hook, Aberdeen — and fade as this type of reporting often presents the false hope that the issue will be expeditiously resolved once this batch of bad apples has been duly disciplined. Our film discloses the ways in which soldier-on-soldier rape is a daily and ongoing occurrence aided and abetted by a perfect storm of confluence of circumstances which leads to its successful proliferation and cover up.

Far from being aberrations or one-off scandals, these crimes are manifestations of an ongoing epidemic, one that is ravaging the well being of our troops, creating generations of traumatized survivors and families, and has been going on unchecked right here for decades.

After a good year plus of being unable to receive funding to make this film, Kirby and I just decided to travel around the country and talk to survivors without a crew. Their stories were harrowing and heartbreaking, each one uncannily echoing the other, even though these men and women had all served in different branches, different decades, and different parts of our country.

I remember leaving the house of one woman in upstate New York, Teresa, now 40 and a single mom. She had entered the Army when she was 19. After telling me her story, as I was leaving she said, “Amy, even if you don’t make this documentary, or even if you do end up making this documentary and I'm not in it, thank you so much for coming today to talk with me. You're the first person who ever believed me, who ever cared to listen.” Thank you all today for listening. It’s so important. And for championing the importance of listening. And thank you so much for this award. It means so much to me and my fellow filmmakers, Kirby Dick and Tanner Barlow, but most importantly to countless service members much more courageous than we could ever be who dared to speak the truth to our cameras despite the considerable risks they were taking in doing so.

They did this not for personal glory of self aggrandizement, but simply because each and every one of them told me they never wanted another soldier to have to go through what they had. We accept this award most truly and kindly on their behalf and dedicate it to them. And thank you all for having the kindness and compassion in bestowing it, as it lets them know that you are there, you are listening, and they are no longer invisible. [applause]

KIRBY DICK: Amy always brings down the house. First of all, I would just like to say how honored I am to be in this room with everyone here. There's so many people here that helped shape my political education, really, over the last many decades. So I'm sure that I could — a lot of the films that I've made have been really informed by a lot of the work that you've done, so thank you.

We're very honored and humbled to receive The Ridenhour Film Prize. When Amy and I were making this film, we were hoping that it would shed light on an epidemic that has been going on for decades and that the military has been especially effective at keeping covered up. But we were not very optimistic that the film would change much because the military and our government had always responded in the past to reports about rape in the military by denying them, blaming the victims, and claiming that the problem was solved.

We never expected the impact that this film would have. Not only did Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announce some significant policy changes, but the military has begun to use the film as part of its sexual assault training. And over the last year, more than 250,000 servicemen and women have seen the film.

All the Joint Chiefs of Staff have seen the film. In one case, General Welsh, the Air Force Chief of Staff, flew in all 164 wing commanders from around the world to the Pentagon to see the film and discuss the issue. [applause] As far as we know, this is the first time in history that all wing commanders have been called back to the Pentagon.

So what has happened is that the military has begun to take the issue seriously. In fact, Secretary Hagel said at one point that this is the second most important issue that the military has to face after Afghanistan. But, the problem still continues. Tens of thousands of men and women are still being sexually assaulted each year. These assaults continue because the military’s criminal justice system is rife with conflict of interest and potential cronyism. Right now, senior officers in the chain of command of both the victim and the accused adjudicate these crimes, not trained prosecutors without direct ties to the perpetrators.

The one institution that can change this is Congress, which has oversight of the military. And that is why we're most pleased that the Senate, which has been completely absent on this issue for decades, is finally starting to move on the issue. Senator Gillibrand of New York and other Senators, Senator Blumenthal, Senator McCaskill, are drafting legislation right now to change the military’s legal justice system so survivors of military rape can receive impartial justice. It’s not going to be an easy fight. The military is pushing back hard on this, insisting it can solve the problem if we just leave it alone. It can't and it won't.

So we are very grateful for this award because it comes at such a crucial time. In fact, the markups to these bills are happening in June in the Subcommittee and in the House Armed Services Committee. So this is a perfect time. We are very grateful because it will help to bring much-needed attention to this issue so that Congress and the military will finally make the changes they need to make to protect our men and women in uniform. Thank you very much. [applause]

AMY ZIERING: And if I can just say one more thing, I didn’t mean to get so emotional and I wanted to go off-book and introduce someone who’s here who’s super important. Ben Clay, would you please stand up? [applause] No, stay standing. I'm going to talk about you for just one second. Because I was so — you know, I wanted to add you in gracefully and I had to stay on-book. When I said the service members who had much more courage than either Kirby and I, if I can just take a second and tell your story, really short.

We finished the film, we submitted to Sundance. Kirby brilliantly said, “You know what? We better get a survivor when it’s happening, absolutely here, right now. Like what if our cases are set, all your subjects are too old?” We found Arianna Clay, who is right now going through a court martial and she served at Marine Barracks Washington. I spoke to her; she said she’d absolutely do an interview. I said, “Why are you in the military?” She said, “Oh, my husband, he was undergrad at Yale, graduate school at Harvard, decided he really wanted to dedicate his life to serving our country and joined the military. He’s an officer, two tours of duty in Iraq.” And I said, “Wow, could I talk to your husband?” And she said, “Well, of course you could, but he could never talk to you guys on camera, he’d never get permission.”

So I said, “That's okay.” Spoke with Ben, we had an amazing phone call. He's completely brilliant. And I said, “Ben, you know, would there be any chance, could you maybe get a release? We’d love to speak with you as well.” And he said, “You know, Amy, a) I don't really trust the media and I don't know you. You sound nice, but I don't know what you're going to do with our story; b) if anyone — I would never get permission so even if I spoke to you, it's a non starter.” And he said, “c) we've kind of suffered enough. So thank you, but.”

And so I said, “Okay, fair enough, Ben. How about this? We're done with the film. Why don’t I come out, I'll interview Arianna, we’ll interview you. Don’t sign a release. We'll go home to LA, cut it, send it right back to you, you look at it. You'll see who we are, you'll see exactly what we're going to use, and then you'll decide. And maybe you'll think there's someone you could ask higher up who would give you permission.” He said, “Okay. No harm, no foul, that's fine. Come on over.” We interviewed Arianna, we interviewed Ben, raced back to LA, cut it December 26, sent it to them.

January 2nd, my cell phone rings, it's Ben. He says, “Amy, when is Sundance?” I said, “It’s in 20 days. We premier on January 22nd.” He said, “I thought about it, and I'm going to resign.” He said, “They’d never give me permission, but I always wanted to serve my country and maybe this is the best way I can do it.” [applause]