Thomas Merton Center to Hold Forum on Abuse of Women in the Military

Mar 7, 2013

Lieutenant Elle Helmer in front of the Vietnam War Memorial, from "The Invisible War"
Credit Cinedigm / Documrama Films

On Friday, March 8, in observance of International Women’s Day, the Thomas Merton Center will screen The Invisible War, a documentary about abuse of women in the American military.

The Academy Award-nominated film addresses sexual assault against women in the armed forces. According to the military’s official statistics, 20 percent of women have experienced sexual assault. An estimated 80 percent of those cases go unreported.

“Something like women being abused in the military is not something you hear about too often, and it’s something that deserves our attention and focus,” said Diane McMahon, managing director of the Thomas Merton Center.

The Center, together with the Women’s League for International Peace and Freedom, and the American Friends Service Committee of Pennsylvania, will host a discussion and question and answer session in addition to the screening.

“One of the challenges we always face is to make it very real for them [attendees], so it’s not just a movie, but something that’s really happening.”

To that end, two Iraq war veterans, Helen Gerhardt and Joyce Wagner, will share their experiences after the showing.

Though the film and discussion focus on abuse against women, it is not an event of gender-specific importance. McMahon hopes to catapult into a larger discussion about frameworks of injustice.

“It is one opening, aperture, that we can look at to not only address how women are being abused, but the whole systemic problem with how we treat each other, how we relate to each other, how institutions perpetuate oppression,” said McMahon.  

Historically, the Merton Center has been known for its work to end wars. It aims to raise moral consciousness and to engage society in addressing questions of injustice in order to build a more peaceful world.

“We ask the big question, ‘why?’ And there’s a lot of times you don’t have a place that you can ask the big question,” said McMahon. “I think that when we ask it, it draws us together and it makes closer relationships.”

McMahon acknowledges that there are alternative means of spending a Friday night in Pittsburgh. But she believes discussing questions of why the world operates as it does in the company of others is crucial to creating change.

“It’s the community that’s going to make something happen. It’s not any one of us. If we can reach out and communicate better with each other, build our relationships in a trusting way, then we think we’re going to have a real impact.”