Film producer spotlights the invisible war within U.S. military

(CBS News) This week, the officer in charge of preventing sexual assault in the Air Force was charged with groping a woman in a parking lot near the Pentagon. The case of Col. Jeffrey Krusinski is spotlighting an issue that's been firmly rooted in the shadows: sexual assault in the military. The Department of Defense estimates there were 26,000 cases of sexual assault or abuse in the military last year. That's up 30 percent from the year before.

We sat down with Regina K. Scully, an executive producer of "The Invisible War," a documentary about sexual assault in the military. A transcript of the conversation follows.

Regina K. Scully: Sexual assault in the military is so...they use the word 'epidemic' and in our film "The Invisible War," when we describe the film, it is about the epidemic rapes in our military.

Jim Axelrod: What does the film reveal?

Jeffrey Krusinski, head of U.S. Air Force sexual assault prevention unit, charged with sexual battery
Trial date set for Air Force's sex assault prevention chief charged with sexual battery

Scully: It reveals number one, that people don't feel safe, and they don't feel believed and honored when they go report. Number two, it reveals that when they do come forward -- the brave ones that do -- they are vilified, they are made to be the culprits, they are charged with adultery in many cases, they are dishonorably discharged. They've lost their benefits. I mean the list goes on and on.

This could be your sister, your daughter, a cousin, a neighbor. These are women who went into the armed forces to be educated, to learn, and to serve our country. And they are extremely proud, capable people.

Watch an extended interview with Regina K. Scully below:

Some of them it was their commanding officer. In other cases they were fellow officers and they were gang raped, it was more than one. Some cases they were brutal. And in every single case, these people were encouraged by their fellow officers and by their superiors not to push it further, not to report it, to just buck it up.

Axelrod: Do you think that this problem has been allowed to perpetuate precisely because in this culture we don't criticize the military?

Scully: Yes. That's a big part of it. The military is one of the last bastions of our culture and our society where they have a completely different judicial system.

Axelrod: I was struck this week, the Air Force officer in charge of preventing sexual abuse in the Air Force was charged with groping a woman. Suddenly it's on the front burner as an issue. Why did it take something as egregious as that to get the conversation going in this country?

Scully: It's really like the perfect storm. Congressional hearings are brewing about this issue, and there's still egregious attacks going on right at the same intersection. And this one was just too incredible to ignore.

Axelrod: When you heard about the charges, that the Air Force officer in charge of preventing sexual abuse was actually accused of abuse, what was your first thought?

Scully: My first thought was, "Oh my gosh, again." But my second thought was...I just was grateful that it was for all the world to see, so to speak. All the country to see, including our president.

President Obama (from archival footage): For those who are in uniform who've experienced sexual assault: I want them to hear directly from their commander-in-chief that I've got their backs, I will support them, and we're not going to tolerate this stuff, and there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted.

Scully:He's gone on record now, and I believe him.

Axelrod: Do you think it's enough to change the culture, just going on record to saying we're done with this?

Scully: No, there will be -- we need a few steps to happen before the culture will change. The next thing that needs to happen, our secretary of defense -- Chuck Hagel-- we need for him to help pass legislation and endorse it. That the people who commit these crimes will be held to the same rule of law as the rest of us in civilian life. And that also people, the victims can report it outside the chain of command. There needs to be all new protocols set up.

Next Wednesday, New York Sen. Kirsten Gilibrand will introduce a bill allowing service members to make their complaints directly to military prosecutors and not their commanding officers.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.