Last Friday, June 22, a jury found former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing 10 young boys from disadvantaged homes whom the “onetime local hero” befriend, then repeatedly violated, “using his access to the university’s vaunted football program,” the New York Times reported, as a means of seduction and entrapment. The scandal rocked the football crazy university and community. As the story unfolded, it turned out that famed head coach Joe Paterno had been told of at least one attack. Paterno was fired and died of cancer in virtual exile a few months later. The Times reported that “the university’s longtime president, Graham B. Spanier, was dismissed as well, and Penn State officials, alumni and students were forced to confront the possibility that the interests of big-time college sports had trumped concern for the welfare of vulnerable children.”
The question remains: who knew what about Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of children and when did they know it? It’s a big deal because Penn State’s a big deal. The nation cares.
So why is it so hard to get the nation to care about what another big deal in American life – the US military – and what a bunch of sex offenders are repeatedly allowed to get away with because the chain of command spouts a line of PR, then turns a blind eye? According to the new investigative documentary “The Invisible War” by Kirby Dick:
A female solider 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 19,000 violent sex crimes in the military in 2010. 20% of all active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted. Female soldiers aged 18 to 21 accounted for more than half of the victims.
This is not a new issue and the top brass have repeatedly decried the statistics. The investigation into the Navy’s 1991 Tailhook scandal resulted in a 2000-page report from the Inspector General and the Naval Investigative Service. With passage of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 1993 came another form of intimidation – “lesbian-baiting” – with abusers threatening to out any woman as a lesbian if she didn’t comply with the assailant’s orders. Attorney Michelle Benecke, co-founder of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was a hard-biting watchdog on this issue. “Time and time again,” Benecke said in a CNN program in 1998, “when women report sexual abuse, they find that their commands respond, not by investigating the complaint of sexual abuse, but by investigating them, and their private lives.”
Just like Penn State, the military continues to turn a blind eye to outlandish sexual abuse. The only way to make the military care is to get the public to care, the public from which these women – and men – who are sexually assaulted come as sons and daughters seeking a better way of life while serving their country.
Lisa Derrick, who blogs as La Figa on Firedoglake says that director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering will be on Firedoglake.com‘s Movie Night tonight at 5:00pm West Coast time, discussing “The Invisible War.” The discussion will be in the comment section of the film’s post on the front page. The documentary opened Friday in LA at the Laemmle’s Monica in Santa Monica. I hope to have more on this important film later.