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Rape haunts Coastie in Oscar-nominated ‘War'

Feb. 23, 2013 - 04:38PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 23, 2013 - 04:38PM  |  
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OREGONIA, Ohio Every day Kori Cioca feels the pain in her jaw.

It's a constant reminder of the rape and dislocated jaw she suffered in the Coast Guard seven years ago. She describes the incident in the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Invisible War," about sexual assaults in the military.

"I put my train wreck out there so it could help someone else in the same situation," says Cioca, 27.

"I'm already messed up for the rest of my life."

She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, flashbacks and anxiety, says Cioca, who lives with her husband and two young children in rural Warren County, three miles north of Fort Ancient.

Every three weeks she receives five nerve-block injections in her face so she can eat "real food" instead of a soft diet. The Coast Guard made it difficult to get her jaw fixed for seven years, she says. It was her participation in the movie that finally got her treament. It was paid for by anonymous donors who have seen "The Invisible War."

She often wakes her husband in the middle of the night and tells him to get his shotgun and investigate a strange noise.

"I know the sick stuff (the rapist) did to me, and someone that sick will do it again. I'm fearful of it, definitely," Cioca says.

But her husband, also a Coast Guard veteran, calls her "the strongest person I've ever met."

Newsweek concurred, naming her one of "150 Fearless Women" last year.

She and her husband, Robert McDonald, will attend the Academy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Class-action lawsuit against U.S. continues

Cioca (pronounced CHO-ka) says she repeatedly complained to her commander in 2005 about sexual harassment from her supervisor before he raped her at the Coast Guard's Saginaw River station in Michigan.

After he confessed, Cioca says she was told she would be court-martialed for lying if she reported the rape.

She was ordered to sign a document saying the sex was consensual. She refused. So she was transferred to a station that didn't have surgeons, preventing her from getting her jaw treated, she says. She left the Coast Guard in 2007.

Two years ago, she stood up to the U.S. government. She's the lead plaintiff in a class-action suit charging former Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates with failure to provide a military judicial system for sexual assault cases, and leadership that would prevent rape and sexual assaults.

The case is set to be heard by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., the week of May 13.

The suit describes how Cioca was raped in uniform in her supervisor's stateroom in December 2005. Other allegations fill four pages: how he shoved her hand into his groin; hit and spat on her face; grabbed her buttocks; insulted her; left "voice mails threatening her life;" and broke into her room and masturbated while she slept. Out of fear, she "often slept in her car," the lawsuit says.

Movie producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick found Cioca through the Washington, D.C., attorney preparing the class action.

Family learned struggles when watching documentary

Kori calls herself "this small-town girl" from Wilmington, Ohio. She thought they'd just ask a few questions. She remembers thinking: "Nobody cared about the subject. Nobody was going to watch it."

For two years, the filmmakers visited her Washington Township home for interviews and accompanied the couple to the Dayton VA Medical Center. By then, her husband had given up becoming a police officer. He was appointed her 24/7 caregiver by the VA.

"We don't get baby sitters. We go absolutely everywhere (together)," Rob says.

There was an exception. Kori took the camera crew down to the the Little Miami River and read her secret 2007 suicide note. She had planned on overdosing on pain pills - until a urine test revealed she was pregnant with their first child, Shea, now 4.

She never told Rob about the letter. He learned about it watching the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year.

"That was the toughest part," Rob says.

And until Sundance, they didn't know Kori was the centerpiece of "The Invisible War."

The film was a revelation to other family members, too.

"You don't want to explain what happened to everyone all the time, and they think, ‘Why don't you just get over it?' They didn't understand until they saw the film," Kori says.

Shopping for Oscars dress triggers flashback

Sometimes the smallest thing will trigger a flashback. It happened while Kori was looking for a dress at David's Bridal shop in Springdale to wear to the Oscars.

"After you've been raped, trying to feel or look pretty isn't the same as before. You don't want to call attention to yourself," she says.

She chose a long dress in black, her favorite color.

"You can hide better in black. You can fit better in the shadows."

On Sunday in Los Angeles, there won't be many shadows when she's sitting with "The Invisible War" producers on national television.

She's proud of the film, which has become a military training film to raise awareness about sexual assault. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of Congress, and military leaders and contractors have seen the film, said a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, who is also in the film.

"I'm so honored to stand by these (movie producers) who are willing to help, especially about rape," Kori says, squeezing her husband's hand. "I am lucky. I am very, very lucky."

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