Director Kirby Dick on exposing 'Invisible War'

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Kirby Dick didn't arrange for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to see the filmmaker's new documentary, "The Invisible War."

The movie, which won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival and opens Friday, July 20 at Salt Lake City's Tower Theatre, delivers the harrowing information that more than 19,000 members of the U.S. military were raped or sexually assaulted last year by their comrades in arms. Furthermore, the film exposes how a system of denial, cover-up and retaliation keeps women and men from reporting the crime and prosecuting the assailants.

When Panetta saw the film in April, it had an immediate effect.

Two days after seeing the film, Panetta ordered a major change in policy, taking the decision to prosecute rape cases out of the hands of the victim's superior officer.

And while Dick acknowledges that "The Invisible War" wasn't the sole cause of Panetta's policy change, a campaign mounted by the film's producers in Washington, D.C., and New York "created a word-of-mouth for the film" in the centers of government and media power.

"It's making an impact across all levels," Dick said in a phone interview this week.

Panetta's policy, though, still keeps the decision to prosecute within the chain of command. Dick believes, as do many experts on the subject, that such decisions should be handled by an independent prosecuting body, the way rape cases are handled in civilian courts.

"Until that's done, the military will continue to have a problem," Dick said.