The career of documentarian Kirby Dick begins with aspects of individual sexuality, in films like 1986's Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate and 1997's Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. More recently, those interests have been conjoined with a desire for social justice in Twist of Faith (2004), a look into the lives of victims of pedophile priests; This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), an investigation of the MPAA and the movie ratings system; and Outrage (2009), a study of closeted politicians with anti-gay agendas. These are documentaries that expose the cruelties of monolithic organizations and give the oppressed a chance to be heard. In his new film, Dick goes after the US military, which for decades has covered up the shocking prevalence of rape in every branch of the armed services. The film is so powerful that two days after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta saw it he announced major reforms in how the military handles sexual-assault cases. Here's what Dick said when I interviewed him at the Provincetown Film Festival, where he received the Faith Hubley Memorial Award for career achievement, and The Invisible War won the audience award for Best Documentary.
THE EXTENT OF THIS PROBLEM IS BREATHTAKING, AND THE PAIN OF THE VICTIMS INTERVIEWED IS HEARTBREAKING. WHO IS TO BLAME? When I was doing the interviews — actually, my producer did the interviews with the survivors — you could see as the subjects were starting their narrative, as they were starting to talk about this person who was eventually going to assault them, you could see from the very beginning that this was a serial perpetrator at work, and they were getting set up. They would be posted someplace and it was like, "I got there, I was alone, I didn't know anybody, and this person with a higher rank befriended me" — bingo. The perpetrators would pick somebody who was isolated and set them up in this relationship so they could eventually assault them.
ARE MILITARY VALUES IN PART TO BLAME? ARE THE PERPETRATORS INDOCTRINATED INTO A MINDSET OF VIOLENCE? I don't think the perpetrators pick up their pathology in the service, but I think that the values taught there make it easier for them to operate. The ideal taught there is that "we're all brothers and sisters; you'll die for your fellow soldier." That ideal is very appealing, particularly for those recruits who may have been assaulted before or been abused before in a family and feel they are coming into a new family. They feel like they have finally found a safe spot, so their guard is even more let down, and they are especially vulnerable.
SO IS THE PROBLEM A FEW BAD APPLES? Well, many more than a few. But the bigger problem is not just that these assaults are committed by serial perpetrators but that the military has not really gone after them with the same will that it fights a war. Until the military goes after these serial perpetrators and investigates and prosecutes and incarcerates them, it's going to have this problem. That's really the message of the film. The military needs a very public and aggressive campaign to go after these serial rapists and send them the strongest message possible: if you do this, we'll put you in jail. That's how important this is: it's like being a traitor — you're gonna get shot.
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