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Documentary starts larger conversation about sexual assault

by Nick Kjelgaard

“The Invisible War,” a documentary about sexual assault in the military, led to a conversation among students last Tuesday about sexual assault and victimization.

The documentary and following discussion were hosted by PLNU’s Pi Sigma Alpha chapter and the Center for Women’s Studies.

Through interviews and statistics, the “The Invisible War” showed how survivors of sexual assault were looked down upon, sometimes found guilty of inappropriate behavior and could even be discharged from the US Armed Forces.

Members of Pi Sigma Alpha the film was chosen because it sheds light on an issue not commonly discussed on campus.

“The purpose is to bring awareness to the student body and give them something to think about as we become better citizens,” said Bree Burris, the vice-president of speakers for Pi Sigma Alpha.

Caitlin Lambert, a USD graduate and volunteer at the United Service Organization that assists army families, attended the event, and after watching the documentary, asked that out of respect for the women in the documentary that they be seen and referred to as survivors, not victims.

“Everyone is labeling these people as victims and that’s personally offensive to me,” said Lambert. “Just because something happens to you, it doesn’t mean you are a victim.”

Comments made during the discussion following the film showed that the majority of the students were outraged by the treatment of survivors and the lack of punishment for the perpetrators.

“The [Sexual Harassment and Response and Prevention] program is a joke,” said a participant in the discussion who is a midshipman in ROTC. “Sexual harassment training is just something you check off your list.”

Though the film focused on the armed forces, the discussion also addressed how sexual assault is seen by those at PLNU.

“I asked my students: Is there an instance where it would be the woman’s fault?” said Dr. Bettina Pederson, professor of literature and department chair. “Here, in a PLNU freshman composition class, my class of 22 students said ‘maybe.’ You don’t have to be in the military for this cursed logic to infect your life.”

The discussion following the film lasted for over an hour and Kris Lambert, professor of mental health at PLNU, engaged the students who stayed behind to help them process the film and how it changed their views.

Members of Pi Sigma Alpha said they hoped students would now do their own research on the issue of sexual assault.

“Issues like this, violence or injustice against women in general, could spark an interest in the students to learn more,” said Robert Contreras, a member of Pi Sigma Alpha.