Director Kirby Dick (Outrage, This Film Is Not Yet Rated) is a documentary director capable of inciting a lot of white-knuckled anger in his audiences, but never more than in this hard-hitting, muckraking exposé of the epidemic of sexual assaults against women in the American armed services.
Yes, the word "epidemic" is not an exaggeration. The American government's own statistics suggest 20 percent of female veterans have been sexually assaulted during their service. The percentage is likely higher. Many women don't report rape because, as this doc points out, the person they would report to in the chain of command is the rapist.
Dick has no shortage of women willing to tell their stories. One of the central figures is Kori Cioca, a young wife and mother bravely attempting to get some kind of redress from the Veteran's Administration. She was serving in the Coast Guard when a superior officer broke her jaw in the course of a sexual assault. The officer was never charged. The VA refuses help because the assault forced her to leave two months shy of the required two-year period of service. The VA has supplied drugs that, when taken in combination, might kill her.
Other stories ring similar. Most of the women interviewed come from military families and were eager to serve. When they were assaulted, the system proved to be downright medieval in its treatment of the injured parties, falling back on a blame-the-victim strategy.
One problem is that the decision to prosecute falls on individual commanders who are either incompetent in the realm of legal procedure, or eager to cover their own butts, reasoning that a rape complaint would reflect ill of their own commands.
In a few especially infuriating cases, the victims themselves were charged with adultery because their rapists were married men.
Dick suggests that the macho culture of some military institutions, especially the Marine Corps, actually instills a violent, misogynist atmosphere, but he doesn't really follow through, perhaps because such an examination might seem unsupportive of the troops in general. Certainly, the American military offers a rich environment for sexual predators, because they can operate in an environment that is demonstrably unwilling to punish them for their crimes.
It falls on the women themselves to offer their own hard-won wisdom on the subject. Dick's camera is there when Cioca overhears a young waitress discussing her plans to join the military, and discreetly takes steps to dissuade her from that path. It's a sad little moment that may be the film's most damning indictment of all.