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Santa Monica College Students Shine Spotlight on Women Vets

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 31, 2013 -- As the war in Afghanistan winds down, many women soldiers are returning home to realize that their battles are far from over.

That's the central focus of two short documentaries by 20 Santa Monica College (SMC) students who have spent the last semester delving into the complex world of American service women, many of whom are struggling to find their footing as they return to traditional roles after spending months in enemy territory.

“In this particular war, women were doing a job that was once reserved only for men,” said Roxanne Captor, a filmmaker and the instructor of a short-form media class at SMC. “Then they come back to the role as mothers and wives.

“The number of female vets returning and dealing with trauma is eight to 10 percent (of returning vets),” she said. “In the next five to eight years, they are expected to make up 14 to 15 percent.”

Two 15-minute documentaries -- “We Are Strong” and “Real Women Real Vets” -- attempt to show the human faces behind those statistics. “Some have ended up homeless and they are living on the streets,” Captor said.

Captor talked about women soldiers coming home to children who don't recognize their mothers because they were too young when their mothers were deployed.

While the stress of combat and the struggle to return to a normal life affect all veterans, regardless of gender, women often face additional stress.

One service woman interviewed by SMC students for the movies said that all women face some sort of harassment in the military.

According to the Pentagon report, 3,374 sexual assaults were reported in the armed forces in 2012. But the report estimated an additional 26,000 sexual assaults went unreported last year, up from an estimated 19,000 in 2011.

“They all spoke about the sexual trauma issues,” Captor said, referring to the women interviewed in the films. “Many women were afraid of repercussions, looking weak among their peers or risking loss of promotion.”

For the students, the experience taught them more than just the fundamentals of documentary film-making, Captor said.

“Some of the students have gotten very close to these women,” Captor said. “I think they have a whole new respect for what these people do and what they are capable of doing.

“Working with the SMC Veterans Resource Center and other veterans’ centers, my students were able to meet the women and honestly tell these veterans’ stories in their own words,” Captor said.

The two films will be screened June 3 at 7:15 p.m. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in Room 127 at SMC’s Bundy Campus, 3171 South Bundy Drive.

“We don't always recognize how much these women have sacrificed,” Captor said. “I wanted to tell a story about women who are heroic and who are heroic in all circumstances.”

Last fall, students in Captor's class, in conjunction with the SMC History Department, made five short documentaries highlighting the history of Los Angeles' Westside. The documentaries explored a range of topics, including the gambling ships of the Santa Monica Bay and the World War II women workforce of the Douglas Aircraft Co.

For more information about Monday's screening, call 310.434.8742.

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