January 10, 2013

Military sexual assault film featuring Pingree gets Oscar nod

Documentary exposes lackluster prosecutions for sexual assault.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A documentary film about sexual assault in the military that includes interviews with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, was nominated for an Academy Award on Thursday.

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U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine was interviewed for the documentary "The Invisible War," which has been nominated for an Academy Award. The film also includes footage of survivors telling their stories in Pingree's Washington office.

2012 file photo/The Associated Press

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"The Invisible War" is a hard-hitting documentary on the U.S. military’s poor record for investigating and prosecuting rape or other sexual assault incidents. The widely acclaimed movie, which won the audience award for best documentary at the Sundance Festival in 2012, has drawn public attention to sexual assaults in the military and helped spur action in Congress as well as within the Defense Department.

The documentary features interviews with numerous survivors of sexual assault and their subsequent experiences dealing with a military culture in which only 8 percent of sexual assaults crimes are prosecuted and only 2 percent result in convictions, according to the filmmakers. The Pentagon estimates that nearly 20,000 sexual assaults take place in the military every year.

The documentary was directed by Kirby Dick.

Pingree was interviewed for the documentary and the film also includes footage of survivors telling their stories in Pingree's Washington office.

A member of the House Armed Services Committee, Pingree has been among the more vocal lawmakers on Capitol Hill pushing the Defense Department to more aggressively address “military sexual trauma” and to improve treatment of survivors. Pingree sponsored a bill last year to lower the burden of proof for disability benefits for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to sexual trauma.

"This nomination is an honor to the people who made the movie, and that includes the incredible brave veterans who told their stories on camera," Pingree said in a statement. "It's only because people like them have had the courage to talk about what happened to them that the scandal of sexual assault in the military has been brought to light."

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share holder of MaineToday Media, the publisher of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

"The Invisible War" documentary has been viewed by top Pentagon officials, who have since taken steps to address the way sexual assault reports are handled by the military. The film also hit the screens at a time when numerous sex abuse scandals have made national headlines.

Earlier this week, media organizations reported that the House Armed Services Committee plans to hold hearings later this month on sexual abuse in the military. The hearings come at a time when the U.S. Air Force is still dealing with sexual misconduct cases – including sexual assault and rape cases – against several dozen instructors at the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

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