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INVISIBLE-articleLargeThe documentary “The Invisible War” opened in four theaters over the weekend, grossing $16,500, but since its debut at Sundance in January, it has achieved what so many other projects have not: It has had an impact.

Directed by Kirby Dick, and produced by Amy Ziering, the movie chronicles the systemic problem of sexual assault in the U.S. military, made all the more tragic in that the perpetrators are seldom brought to justice and the victims, in some cases, get blamed for stirring up trouble when they report it.

After screening the movie, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced new procedures for handling sexual assault complaints, putting responsibility higher up in the chain of command.

While it is “first step,” in the words of Dick, he says it is not sufficient to handling the larger problem. The Department of Defense estimated that there were more than 19,000 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2010.

“The Invisible War” features interviews with victims, including Kori Cioca, struggling to receive federal medical after being raped while working in the Coast Guard. She and 16 other veterans and active duty service members filed suit against the Department of Defense in February, just weeks after Sundance.

I recently talked with Dick about the challenge in making the movie, getting the public’s attention and getting policymakers to focus on the problem.

How did decide to take on this issue as your latest project?

My producer Any Ziering and I read an article, and we were equally unaware of the situation and equally astounded by these numbers. We were surprised that no other feature film had been made, even though this has been something that has been an issue for generations, and has been in the news going all the way back to Tailhook, for 20 years.

There had been some reporting on this, but it had always been reported on as a problem at a particular base, a problem of a few soldiers, or at an academy. It was never looked at as a systemic problem, and once we took a look at it, it became very clear that this had been a problem that has been going on or generations, that it is completely a systemic problem because the military had not been taking it seriously.