The Arts

Rape in the Military: “Is this a joke?”

By Halina Schiffman-Shilo

For the past several years, the Forum on Law, Culture, and Society has hosted a film festival at Fordham Law School featuring movies that, in some way, focus on the intersection between law and society. After each screening, the Forum’s director, law professor and author Thane Rosenbaum, hosts a discussion featuring actors, producers, attorneys, or the people who inspired the film.

Even though I knew it would be a hard to watch, I opted for The Invisible War, a documentary about rape in the military. I traveled up to the cozy theater on a crisp Saturday evening and found a seat, recognizing several people I knew in the audience. After a few opening remarks about the festival, Mr. Rosenbaum introduced the film and the panel. Present that evening were attorney Susan L. Burke; Maria Cuomo Cole, one of the film’s executive producers; Rear Admiral Susan J. Blumenthal, a doctor and leading women’s health advocate; and former Airman First Class, survivor, and activist Jessica Nicole Hinves, who is featured in the film. Before the film began, the audience rose and applauded the panelists. And then the lights dimmed.

A synopsis: After a saccharine montage of military advertisements through the years encouraging women to join the armed forces, statistics on sexual assaults in the military flicker across the screen. In the next shot, we are face to face with survivors of those assaults telling their stories. The survivors are so riveting in sharing their personal histories, that for a while I forgot I was in a theater full of people, and felt that each of the speakers was talking directly to me.

The survivors’ accounts all share striking similarities. Reporting being raped did not lead to investigations, prosecutions, or even compassion. Instead, those reporting being raped suffered humiliation, professional retaliation, or further victimization, sometimes all three. All of the victims were deeply traumatized; they also were deeply betrayed.

As many of the women explain, there is a deep and strong bond between servicemen and women as they train, work, eat, celebrate, commemorate, and live side-by-side. They are, in the words of Ms. Hinves during the post-screening panel, “like a family.”

After being raped, members of the military are often further traumatized when their supervising officers, to whom they must report, accuse them of lying or of “asking for it.”  Some of the women in the documentary recount how they were raped by their supervising officer, leaving them with no one to report to, and vulnerable to further harassment or assault. As Ms. Hinves explained to us, supervising officers are the very people who are supposed to protect and help them when something goes wrong. Being rejected by a supervising officer is not only isolating, it causes the victims to question their own memory and judgment.

In May 2013, the Department of Defense released its annual report from the Pentagon detailing sexual assault in the military. The report estimated that reported assaults represent less than 15 percent of the assaults actually committed. In 2012, there were 3,374 complaints of sexual assault, which ranged from “abusive sexual conduct” to rape, involving service members as either victims or perpetrators. Of these complaints, fewer than ten percent went to trial.

As the documentary makes clear, rape in the military, and its accompanying enabling rape culture, is beyond pervasive, it’s an epidemic.



Comments Off on Rape in the Military: “Is this a joke?”

The Way, Way Back…to the Courthouse?

By Noah Forrest

 “The Way, Way Back,” out now on DVD and on demand, is a charming coming-of-age story with some compelling legal quagmires that might not be apparent at first blush.

The film follows awkward 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who spends a summer vacationing with his mother (Toni Collette) at her new boyfriend’s beach house.  Duncan does not get along with Trent, his mother’s boyfriend. (Steve Carell, the nicest guy in Hollywood plays a snake of a man with admirable ease).  Trent belittles Duncan, at one point telling the young teenager matter-of-factly that in his estimation, on a scale of one to ten, young Duncan rates a “three.”  Miserable and alone, Duncan gets on a bike and visits a water park, where a free-spirited and kind manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell doing his best impression of Bill Murray in Meatballs), gives the boy a job.

The film is the directorial debut of actors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won Academy Awards for writing “The Descendants,” and they imbue the film with heart and humor. And, for this reporter, legal angles.

First, there is the scene when Mr. Carell’s character makes a move towards Duncan as if he was going to strike him; Trent is ultimately held back by the mother and friends.  But what if Trent had hit Duncan and the mother sanctioned it?  Would this be viewed as child abuse (because Trent was not married to Duncan’s mom), or would the law deem this to be part of acceptable parenting?  What if the corporal punishment was okayed by the parent?

Second, Duncan’s mother did not know that he was working at the waterpark. Nobody knew, or much cared, what Duncan did with his time, so long as he wasn’t moping around the house and getting in the way.  Is this kosher?  What happens if Duncan had been injured at the park?  Who is liable in that situation: the park owners for not requiring that Duncan receive his parent’s permission or the parent for being negligent?



Comments Off on The Way, Way Back…to the Courthouse?

A Stacked Game of Cards

By José I. Ortiz

Autumn’s here, and with it, the Forum on Law, Culture and Society’s annual Film Festival at Fordham Law School. Coincidently, I  attended a film screening at this festival on the same date (October 22) last year. I found a seat (not easy in the filled-to-capacity room) and prepared for what was in store for me this time. I had never even heard of the evening’s film – “The Exonerated” – before seeing it up on the festival’s website.

Before long, Thane Rosenbaum — the film festival’s lively emcee and moderator of the post screening discussion — welcomed us and told us a bit about the film, which helped explain why I’d never heard of it: it was produced by and aired on a now defunct cable network, CourtTV. “Oh boy,” I thought. “This won’t be any good.” I was so wrong.



Comments Off on A Stacked Game of Cards

A Mighty Evening with “A Mighty Heart”

By Zachary Edelman

The eighth annual Forum Film Festival put on by the Forum on Law, Culture, and Society at Fordham Law School wrapped up its six nights of provocative films on October 23 with the screening of “A Mighty Heart”, the emotional and tragic story of journalist Daniel Pearl. I had high expectations for the film festival and post-screening discussion, and it did not disappoint.

For those of you who don’t know the story: In January 2002 Mr. Pearl, the Wall Street Journal South Asia Bureau Chief at the time, arrived in Karachi, Pakistan with his wife to research terrorism in the post 9/11 world. She was pregnant with their first child, and it was an exciting time for this intelligent, worldly, happy, and beautiful couple. Pakistani militants abducted him on January 23, 2002 while he was on his way to what he thought was a meeting with spiritual leader Sheikh Gilani. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the same monster of a man who is believed to have been the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, beheaded Mr. Pearl nine days later. The brutal slaying was videotaped and made public.

“A Mighty Heart,” based on the book by the same name, is Marianne Pearl’s account of her husband’s kidnapping and eventual murder. There is a beautiful scene in the film in which Mrs. Pearl, sensitively played by Angelina Jolie, describes her husband’s last moments alive and begins screaming, as if picturing, and reacting to, the grisly assassination. But the camera transitions to the hospital where you realize you are hearing a woman in the throes of labor, as she brings a new life into the world, their son, Adam Daniel Pearl.

Fordham Law School and the Director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society Thane Rosenbaum led the post-screening discussion. He was joined onstage by Wall Street Journal foreign-affairs columnist and 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens and former Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of the American Political Science Association’s 1994 Gabriel A. Almond Award-winner and international bestseller “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust,” and the recently published “The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism”.

A conversation about the motive behind Mr. Pearl’s murder and the role his religion played began the discussion. Mr. Goldhagen said he was not surprised that Mr. Pearl was targeted; the region virulently anti-Semitic, and Mr. Pearl was openly Jewish. Today, said Mr. Goldhagen, there is more public hatred against westerners in general and Jewish people in particular, than there was during the Nazi regime.

Mr. Stephens recalled the kidnappings of Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor in 2006, and of David Rohde of the New York Times in 2008. Neither Ms. Carroll nor Mr. Rohde is Jewish; both survived their kidnappings. According to Mr. Stephens, kidnapping someone who is American and Jewish is a “double fudge sundae” to Islamic extremists. Sort of a two-for-the-price-of-one bonus.



Comments Off on A Mighty Evening with “A Mighty Heart”

Hate Crime on “Valentine Road”

By Noah Forrest

In 2008 in Oxnard, California, a just-turned fourteen-year-old boy, Brandon McInerney, stood up in a classroom and shot a classmate, Lawrence King.  The shots were fatal.

This event is at the center of Marta Cunningham’s documentary, “Valentine Road,” which premiered on HBO on October 7 and is available On Demand and at HBO Go.

Ms. Cunningham’s film takes an even-handed look at the lives of both boys prior to the tragedy and the toll it took on their family, friends, and teachers.

Larry identified as transgender. Brandon was a bully who taunted Larry and others who seemed vulnerable.  Remarkably, the movie shows that the boys had more in common than anyone could have guessed, each suffering abuse a from young age at the hand of a family member or guardian.

Though there is evidence that Brandon was alternately threatened or enraged by Larry’s feminine clothes and alter-ego, Valentine’s Day brought things to a boiling point.

Larry asked Brandon, in front of Brandon’s friends, to be his Valentine.

In the film, a psychologist who testified for the defense explains that Brandon felt humiliated, even sexually harassed, by Larry’s request.   Brandon wasn’t mature enough, says the expert, to handle this unwanted attention.

The film raises many legal questions.  Brandon brought the gun to school with the express intention of shooting Larry. Should he have been tried as an adult?  Was killing Larry a hate crime?  LASIS investigates.



Comments Off on Hate Crime on “Valentine Road”