The Invisible War’s ironic invisible victims

Originally posted on February 11, 2013

The 2012 documentary The Invisible War delved into the topic of sexual violence in the military. The film won much acclaim and several awards. The film focuses primarily on female survivors, but also featured two male survivors. However, both of them have a complaint about the film:

“We’re being abandoned by (director) Kirby Dick. The guys feel betrayed,” said Michael Matthews, a 20-year Air Force veteran who, in the movie, tells of his 1974 gang rape by three other airmen. The publicity campaign hawking the film — and its Academy Award candidacy — includes a website that shows the faces of six female victims of military sexual assault, and no male survivors of that crime, as well as formal screenings to which only female victims have been asked to attend, Matthews said.

“What the (bleep) is that about? They don’t list any of the men on the website. He’s making millions of dollars but he’s not bringing any of the men to any these appearances all over the country like he’s bringing the women,” Matthews told NBC News. “I appreciate them putting us in the movie but, now, the men are not being represented at all. He has turned his back on us. And the movie, some of it, is hurting us.”

I have yet to watch the film, but based on the reviews I suspected that the focus was exclusively on women and that any men featured in the film were at best throwaway mentions. It is a truly terrible thing because most of the men raped in the military do not come forward. The film could have helped change that, particularly since the air and attitude of silence is so prevalent with male victims in the military.  Instead, it appears the filmmakers and their predominantly female executive producers decided to paint sexual violence in the military as something that only men do to only women.

And in case people think I am being unreasonable, there is this:

Navy veteran Brian Lewis — who was raped by a male, senior non-commissioned officer in 2000 and then discharged from the Navy shortly after reporting the attack — said he and Matthews are disturbed that the film’s fleeting attention on male victims, both on screen and in promotional tactics, symbolizes the way male sex-assault survivors have been marginalized by society and by some lawmakers investigating the issue of rapes within the armed forces. Lewis has a 10-second soundbite in the documentary.

“‘The Invisible War’ runs for just under two hours (99 minutes) and men received probably a lot less than five minutes. How frustrating would that be?” asked Lewis, 33, who serves on the board of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for service members who have been sexually assaulted by fellow troops.

“You can’t really address the problem of military sexual trauma until you include the 56 percent of the victims — the men — and they are being ignored right now,” Lewis said.

A 10-second soundbite hardly sounds like addressing the problem. The situation with military rape is the same as prison rape: more women report being raped, but there are significantly more men in the military, meaning that even if the reported rate of rape is lower for men, there are still more men who are victimized. When combining that with military culture, one can begin to see how harder it is for male victims to come forward. Chances are, just like with prison rape, that male victims face more frequent and violent assaults and assaults by females that rarely are reported.

Kirby Dick responded to the criticism, stating:

Dick told NBC News he empathizes with both men, and agrees that male rape victims are being “kept in the shadows” by their country, and said Matthews — who had the harshest words for the director — “has been phenomenal in terms of what he contributed to the film, and in terms of his continuing to push the issue forward both for women and especially for men. […] Dick acknowledged that he and the movie’s female producer purposely devoted the bulk of the screen time to the stories of military women who have been assaulted by men. (He added that the perception he or the producers are earning millions of dollars is “simply not the case.”)

“In terms of making the film, we felt the entry point in this discussion was more women being assaulted because we felt it was a discussion that people would start to have,” Dick said. “Our essential goal here is to have the military continue to change its policy (on investigating rape reports and disciplining predators) so that all men and women are protected in the military … We felt that once the country started putting pressure on the military to make these changes, if and when the military does make changes, those will apply to men just as they will women. So we kind of felt women would get the discussion going and push the military to make the change for everyone.”

In other words, Matthews and Lewis called this dead to rights: Dick and the producers of the films deliberately ignored male victims. And not only did they ignore male victims, but they also did it for the most moronic and easily disproved reason possible. In 40 years of focusing on domestic and sexual violence against women, that that discussion has rarely brought any changes that assist male survivors. Most rape centers and domestic violence shelters do not provide services to males. Few federal and state programs do any outreach for males. Most studies that address domestic and sexual violence use smaller sample populations for males, assuming they are included in the research at all, and typically use biased methods that often result in lower rates of violence against males (most recently done by the CDC).

Even the reviews bear this out. Many do not mention male victims at all, and the few that do only give Matthews and Lewis a passing mention. None of the national conversations sparked by the film have focused in full or in part on male victims of rape in the military. It is as if people think only women are raped in the military.

That may not have been Kirby’s intent, but what could he and the producers honestly expect if they created a film that presented military rape as something that only happens to women?

Just to give some further insight, there is also this from the article:

According to Nate Galbreath, senior executive adviser to the U.S. Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), a 2010 survey found that 4.4 percent of active-duty women and 0.9 percent of active-duty men “indicated that they experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in the year prior to being surveyed.”

That math equates to about 19,000 sex-offense victims per year inside the armed forces, including about 10,000 men and 9,000 women.

Again, even though the survey shows a low (and likely inaccurate) rate for males, there are still more men who are raped than women. This is not an issue of “who has it worse”. It is simply a matter of not presenting military rape as a “gendered crime” when it clearly is not.

According to the article, Matthews has begun post-production on the film Justice Denied that “examines only men’s stories of military rape and how those assaults changed those men forever.” While it is a great thing to see someone actually talking about male victims of military rape, it is also sad that someone has to make a separate documentary about it because the first decided to snub them.

9 thoughts on “The Invisible War’s ironic invisible victims

  1. I’ve been listening to Brian and wondering how this is going to fly….I’m really glad these guys are speaking out, and getting, “ok, (eyes roll), if you **have too**, another 10 second sound-bite, but enough-with-the-whining-guys. It’s about us poor women, the suffering 5% of the military”.

    “I accept the fact that there are certain frustrations. But that is nothing in comparison to what Michael has accomplished and is accomplishing. And if it takes a little emotion to get that out, I’m 100 percent behind it.” Wow. Is that ever a confused and confusing statement….

    I remember in one of my sexual assault advocate training classes, … an hour into a discussion of sequelae of rape (ST, LT effects of rape) as male rapists (always “he”) and female victims (she),… finally saying, you know, there are male victims here as well, like, for example, men raped in prison. A female therapist who (get this!) works in our state prisons turn to me and said flatly, “That doesn’t happen.” End of story. Men don’t report it. Done. I had a copies of the Dept of Justice studies for adult and juvenile SA victims… She’d never heard of them. Couldn’t care to look at them. “That doesn’t happen.” Because it doesn’t. The director of the center said, “well, if we have that clear, let’s move on…”. And they did.

    You could imagine how I felt, running a group for male survivors… hearing those stories week after week. Guess we’re all just delusional! And I no longer volunteer there. Just too crazy.

    This is the mentality. I think male victims will only get help if men learn to care about each other enough to create the resources and organizations for it. Probably fighting against women who will oppose it. Supporting VAWA, rape centers for women, etc. will never help men much. It’s that polarized. And I think it’s just getting worse.

    I wonder if I will live long enough to see it though.

  2. Many of the comments below the article are absoloutely reprehensible and everyone single one of those people are a disgrace to the human race. They should be flushed down the toilet (particularly the ones insulting homosexuals and homosexuality).

  3. Allan, I have been in situations like that before, and I do not drop it until we talk about it in whatever setting we are in. I do not know if you had the chance to do that, but that is what I do. What I would suggest is that, if possible, contact whatever prisons that therapist works in and inform those who hire her that she does not believe men and boys are raped in prison. No one with that view should be allowed to treat anyone.

  4. If anyone tries to use the link to the trailer that’s at the bottom of the page after the article it won’t work. Looks like it’s a simple HTML mistake (I’ve contacted them about it).

    The link tries to load the URL:

    If you take out the everything before the second “http” you will be left with “” which will take you to the trailer.

  5. According to the director’s statement: ““In terms of making the film, we felt the entry point in this discussion was more women being assaulted because we felt it was a discussion that people would start to have,”

    Then why in the hell did he include those male survivors in the first place? Why not just drop the pretense of being about male and female survivors of military rape, cut any and all mention of male survivors, and just flat out admit it honestly that this is about women only if he’s so adament about getting people discussing things?

    I think this is THE WORST of all betrayals ever for male survivors. Just reprehensible on the director, and producer’s, part. To dangle the proverbial carrot of publicity in front of the two men then snatch it away and say “Sorry but we feel the issue of women being raped in the military is the only discussion people will start to have”.just goes to show they’re only in it for the money. Yeah, he can make all the excuses he wants about “not being in it for the money”. Even if he weren’t in it for the money, he’s still in the wrong regardless of the kind of saint he portrays himself to be.

    I’m not going to even bother seeing this film and will tell everyone to flat out avoid it. Not because I’m a rape supporter and heartless towards female survivors of miltary rape. No, it’s all due to what this director and his co-horts did to those men who took the time and worked hard to share their stories under the assumption they’d be used in the documentary.

    Director: “Our essential goal here is to have the military continue to change its policy (on investigating rape reports and disciplining predators) so that all men and women are protected in the military … We felt that once the country started putting pressure on the military to make these changes, if and when the military does make changes, those will apply to men just as they will women. So we kind of felt women would get the discussion going and push the military to make the change for everyone.”

    Sorry, Dick, but you are wrong. Putting emphasis on women only is going to make the military focus on changing it’s policies to serve female survivors ALONE! It’s never going to include male survivors. In short, you just ensured the Duluth Model Machine runs on smoothly.

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