As a woman who has been in some kind of military environment for close to ten years (prep school, active duty, academy), I have become quite the over-scrutinizer of any sort of military centered media. I am that annoying critic laughing at the Private First Class with red fingernails and the improbabilty of boot camp ending with a boy-meets-sexy-girl romance. (Obviously, I am also a huge nerd.) When I saw that WIGS, the on-line channel promoting dramatic series/short films centered around women, was dedicating three full episodes to military sexual assault, I had to take a look. Complex and real representations of women in uniform are in short supply, but when they do arrive, they assist with beginning many an important conversation.
Due to the nature of this particular production, I could quite possibly critique it from two levels: one as a feminist in uniform and the other as a victim advocate. In case the term is unfamiliar to some, a military victim advocate is a support person for any service member reporting sexual assault. The victim advocate role is pretty flexible and can include outreach such as emotional support, setting up medical appointments, crisis intervention, and informing victims of their rights.
Eradicating military sexual assault is an evolution across all the uniformed services needing constant dedication and courageous support. Lauren, which follows Sergeant Lauren Weil (played by Troian Bellisario) as she reports a sexual assault up her chain of command to Major Stone (played by Jennifer Beals) would be a superb media resource for 3 important reasons:
- Nuanced Portrayals of Women in Uniform: Most of the time in Hollywood, military women are donned in form-fitting, cleavage baring uniforms (which would definitely fail during an inspection) or so preoccupied with besting the boys that audiences have no idea who these women are. In Lauren, Sergeant Weil is both the brave soldier stepping forward in integrity and a woman who is very afraid. When Major Stone berates Sergeant Weil about her “specialness”, one can loudly hear the frustration of a career heavy with trials due to sexism. Both women are true to their roles in the superior and subordinate military hierarchy relationship without erasing their individual personalities.
- Realistic Military Sexual Assault Vocabulary: I hate, hate it when military films overuse acronyms. Sure, the military is known for its ample use of TLAs (three letter acronyms), but no need to go all crazy. Hearing “unrestricted report” was music to my victim advocate ears, for restricted and unrestricted reporting are the actual terms the uniformed services employ for reporting sexual assault. Utilizing definitions that would be found within many a manual, make this story all the more real and possible to relate to.
- Realties of Reporting Rape in the Military: Reporting sexual assault in the military ( like anywhere else) is no simple choice. In addition to the traumatic upheaval common in every sexual assault occurence, there are the added military pressures: reporting a rape while standing at the position of attention, low chances of actual conviction for the accused, added stresses of a military environment, being surrounded by hear-say 24/7, etc.
Though I am not a member of the US Army as are the characters in Lauren, I can attest that most military sexual assault policies amongst the uniformed services are very similar. 80-90% of the story in Lauren would unfold in the same manner no matter what the service. As resources like Lauren and the military sexual assault documentary The Invisible War appear; it is my sincere hope that conversations regarding sexual assault also address instances of sexism and other forms of harassemnt in the ranks like those faced by members with intersectional identities (women of color, members formerly denied by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). When the media gets the story right in the same vein as Lauren, servicemembers become human, and not the pie-charted statistics usually reported. Whether I am in uniform or not, I will be forever on the lookout for resources like Lauren that can truly expand the dialogue surrounding military sexual assault and the experiences of women in uniform.