Veterans War Women's Issues

The Invisible War: Rape in the Military – by Matthew Fleischer


A San Diego Navy vet speaks out in a deeply important and shattering new film

by Matthew Fleischer

“When you get raped in civilian life, you go to a court that’s independent and unbiased to seek justice and recourse. When you get raped in the military, your only recourse is to go to your commander, who knows you and likely knows your rapist.”
–Amy Ziering, producer, “The Invisible War”

Navy veteran Allison Gill says she was violated three times during her military service in the early aughts: once when she was raped by a fellow service member, once when she tried to report the crime and was told to go away, and a third time when she tried to get the Veterans Benefits Administration to acknowledge her sexual assault-based PTSD and authorize treatment—only to denied and stonewalled for three years and counting.

“To go to countless therapy sessions and truly get to the place where you believe that this is not your fault, and then to be denied and denied and denied,” she tells WitnessLA, “it sets you back in your therapy. That’s a devastating thing for a survivor, to tell them ‘we don’t believe you.’”

Gill is one of the dozens of military victims of sexual assault featured in the new documentary The Invisible War, which opens nationwide Friday. The film offers an astounding portrait of military veterans living with the trauma of sexual assault—perpetrated by their brothers in arms. This epidemic of rape in the military is seemingly impossibly widespread. Since World War 2, nearly 500,000 military men and women have reported being raped during their service. 3,000 military on military rapes were reported in 2011 alone—and authorities think the actual number could be six times higher.

Almost worse than the act itself is the treatment these victims receive from military authorities when they attempt to report these crimes. I ran into Gill at a recent screening of The Invisible War at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and we spoke about the film and about her ordeal. “When I went to report my sexual assault to military police, I was told I was silly,” Gill remembers. “They said I’d been drinking, I’d put myself in a bad situation and I should ‘suck it up.’ They threatened that if I filed a report and it was found to be false, I could be dishonorably discharged. They talked me out of it.”

According to the film, 80 percent of military rape victims do the exact same thing—stay quiet.

“The thing that hits me like a ton of bricks was the barrage of women in the film who said the exact same thing as I did,” says Gill. “I’ve never met anyone that went through what I went through. It blew me away that everyone’s story is the same.”

That story too often includes Gill’s problem of getting the Veterans Benefits Administration to acknowledge she suffers from sexual assault-induced PTSD from her attack. She first filed her claim 2009, was denied, she appealed, was denied again, and is still waiting for the results of her second appeal three years later.

Gill happens to be graded 30 percent disabled by the VBA, based on other injuries she suffered during her service, which entitles her to free medical care at the VA. But because the VBA refuses to acknowledge that sexual assault is the cause of her PTSD, she has to pay for any meds her therapist prescribes for treatment out of pocket.

It could be much worse. Military sexual assault survivors who have their claims denied, are not graded 30 percent disabled or more, or do not meet the minimum service threshholds, do not receive free care from the VA at all. They are subject to co-pays and other fees for PTSD treatment and other basic medical care.

Gill is very clear in distinguishing between the difficulties she’s had with the Veterans Benefits Association and the actual VA hospital system. Despite her ordeal, after getting out of the Navy, she wound up working for the VA in San Diego, a job that she loves.

“I’m a pretty patriotic person,” she says. “I wanted to serve my government in some capacity. I wanted to give back something. It made sense to me to give back to my country and serve veterans at the same time.”

Gill has found one unusual form of therapy to heal the mental wounds the VBA declines to acknowledge: standup comedy. The local press in her adopted hometown of San Diego has dubbed Gill the city’s “funniest woman.” (Incidentally, if you’re too busy to drive south to check out her act, she’s going to be at the Hollywood Improv on Friday August 10th.)

“The way I cope is I fill my life up with stuff to do, so I don’t have time to sit and think,” she says. “After my service I went back to school to get my master’s degree. I go to yoga 6 times a week. I’m always doing something, or on my way back from doing something. Some people medicate with drugs or alcohol. I medicate with having shit to do.”


  • Rape is a horrible crime…and any idiot could predict that demands for the military to create a multi-sex force, especially in combat, would result in more of these crimes. Being forced to accept openly gay soldiers is the next shoe to drop with problems. When it comes to demands from social justice advocates, common sense and practical experience has never been their long suit.

  • Jeez, Woody, why don’t we just segregate every workplace? And don’t stop there, start in the educational system.

  • Jim, schools where boys and girls were separated used to be standard, and studies have shown that such an arrangement produces better students. Everyone is not the same.

    I don’t blame victims for crimes against them, but you have to admit that it would be pretty stupid for me to walk through an inner city neighborhood late at night by myself. Likewise, why are women surprised when crimes are committed against them when they insist on putting themselves in higher risk situations? Political correctness has no common sense.

  • Jim hitchcock: Obviously, you’ve never been in the military. In the civilian workplace people go their separate ways at the end of the work day. In the military, it’s different. Naval vessels put out to sea for six months or longer at a time. In the Army/Marines, line units are likewise out in the field training for months at a time, and in either event–out at sea as a sailor or out in the boonies as an Infantryman– close proximity of the different sexes to one another can create problems not apt to be found in the civilian workplace and not anticipated by what woody calls “social justice advocates” who have never served in the military and who had no inkling of the unintended consequences the imposition of their “social justice”–I put this in quotes because I firmly believe a well trained, well-disciplined military is more important to the national welfare than the achievement of some kind of social engineering goal–policies would generate.

  • The most shocking cover up in the United States military is not rape in the military. Let me clue you all in. It is Area 51. Otherwise known as “Extraterrestrial Highway. This is where the Pentagon has, for decades, stored frozen extraterrestrials and recovered alien spacecraft.
    Stanton T. Friedman, who is a nuclear physicist, lecturer and top UFO researcher as well as a scientist for General Electric, Westinghouse, McDonnell Douglas and other high-tech companies, has worked on a variety of classified projects that have shown him government secrets are a fact of life. A lot of Americans are waking up to the fact that there’s a lot going on that they don’t get told about! -.-

  • Jim: “A lot of Americans are waking up to the fact that there’s a lot going on that they don’t get told about.”

    Nothing new there. Personally, I think it’s best to leave the extraterrestrials covered up–don’t kick a sleeping dog–and concentrate on uncovering shenanigans closer to home.

  • Cog,
    You are spot on. The social justice advocates think they can reach the “utopia of fairness” through legislation which is brought on by political correctness. There is never any thought given to the unintended consequences. When the social justice advocates see that their policies cause problems they hadn’t anticipated, they revert to the safety of the explainable excuse “Well, we were trying to do the right thing”.
    When they realize that life can’t be made to be fair in every aspect of every person’s life; that equal oppurtunity doesn’t result in equal results, and that there are always going to be winners and losers maybe the PC nonsense will stop.

    Of course, with some of them their goal is to destroy capitalism because they believe other forms of government will result in equal results for everyone. Yet again, they fail to recognize that there are winners and losers in the other forms of government also. The government picks them in the other forms of government. Nevertheless, there are winners and losers in every form of government.

    There is no utopian state of fairness. In any form of government.
    Some people will refuse to believe this their entire life. History and the wars of the world tell us different.
    It simply “feels good” to believe in utopia. So people cling to it and believe they can bring it about through policy brought on by legislation.
    Common sense goes right out the window.

    Ah, the mantle of Political Correctness, where winners and losers dissapear and everybody is equal.
    Pure myth.

  • I’ve been noticing more and more in the past decade or so that women are as tough as most men. If they want to fight in the military, they should be able to. And a male soldier with self control issues who would attempt to take advantage of one of these heroic women sexually should be treated as if he’d tried the same with a male soldier.

  • Someone with “real military experience” please alert the “politically correct, social justice” Israelis that they’ve been making a horrible mistake for over 60 years.

  • “their goal is to destroy capitalism”

    In context of this post, you are giving evidence that you are completely insane. This is just sick garbage given the parameters of this discussion. The analytical incompetence and intellectual depravity of “conservatives” would be laughable if it didn’t endanger the country.

  • Bruce S: Can you expound on the “the horrible mistake” the Israelis have been making for the last sixty years? Israel is a country 263 miles long, 71 miles at its widest point, and has a population less than that of Los Angeles County (facts that can be Googled), and is surrounded by hostile countries who have publicly wished it harm, so comparing its military to ours is not really feasible, even though it is an exemplar of what a well trained, well disciplined military force should be.

  • The point was made. No need to expound on anything, given the fact that you came back with nothing (other than that you are capable of googling the size of Israel.)

    That said, I am impressed that you stumbled upon the answer to this “quandry” – “Well trained, well disciplined.” If you don’t think Americans are up to that standard, it says more about you than the military.

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