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Film screening helps showcase rape epidemic in U.S. military

Coast Guard veteran Seaman Kori Cioca, was violently raped by her commanding officer in the Marine Barracks Washington, where he dislocated her jaw.

Years later, he remains unpunished for the crime.

Cioca was one of the numerous women interviewed for the Academy Award nominated documentary, “The Invisible War,” chronicling the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the U.S. military, the institutions that perpetuate and cover up its existence and its personal and social consequences.

The women’s studies program had a special screening of the film on Sept. 25, followed by a discussion with Stewart Frimer, a clinical social worker and member of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The screening attracted students and faculty alike and left many without seats, forced to stand in the passageway of the president’s conference room in Rosenthal Library.

“I’m glad I saw this because I’ve got buddies in the military and they’ve never mentioned anything like this. They’re guys so I guess it’s different for them,” junior, Simon Vega said. “It just makes me wonder how hushed up everything is.”

According to the film, the Department of Defense reports that nearly 19,000 sexual assaults occur annually in the military and only 244 have been convicted. This is due to the “boy’s club” mentality of the military and the hyper masculine image it portrays.

Using marine corp. ads and army slogans, the film showed how aggressive behavior was rewarded and female soldiers were belittled.

By discussing the 1991 Navy Tailhook scandal, the 1996 Army Aberdeen scandal and the 2003 Air Force Academy scandal, the film chronicles the cover ups the military has consistently made when it comes to sexual assault.

When rapes are reported, the women are often blamed, called liars and forced to continue to work with their rapist who, often times, is their superior. Even with clear evidence, superiors disregard accusations of rape and assault.

One woman commented on how her superior angrily asked her if she thought this was a joke and she was one of the three women who had accused an officer of sexual assault that very week. Unit commanders are often friends with the perpetrators or are the perpetrators themselves.

However, this is not a gendered issue as both men and women are victims of sexual assault in the military. Showcased in the film was Michael Matthews, an Air Force veteran who was blindfolded and gang raped in 1974. He stated it took him over 30 years to admit what was done to him, but he is in a better mental state for finally being able to do so.

Also featured in the film was the civil suit filed by Cioca, along with other survivors featured in the film, against the Department of Defense for failing to adequately address sexual assault within the military. The suit was unsuccessful.

Frimer, who has been distributing and work shopping the documentary in schools and academic settings across New York, believes the best way to address the issue is to first understand the role of the survivor and speak up to end rape culture.

“Be there for them, talk to them and believe them,” Frimer said. “Because when you don’t, there is a brand new process of re-shaming the survivor goes through.”

“If you hear a rape joke, make sure you speak up and say something,” Frimer said. “Comedians think they’re being funny, but really, they’re just being shameful.”

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