LaVena Johnson of Florissant, Mo., was only 19 years old when she died in Iraq in 2005. The Army said Private Johnson committed suicide, but her family has objected to that ruling. They believe that LaVena was raped and murdered.
LaVena Johnson: The Silent Truth, a documentary that tells the story of the Johnson family’s struggle to find the truth about their daughter’s death, premiered Nov. 10 in Moore Auditorium to a full house. A question and answer session with Dr. John Johnson, LaVena’s father; Joan Brooker-Marks, the film’s director; and Col. (Ret.) Ann Wright, co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience, followed the screening.
Co-sponsors of the premiere were the Year of International Human Rights 2010-11: Women’s Rights, Veterans for Peace, The Organization for Black Struggle, and the Office of Congressman William Lacy Clay. Dennis Lane, executive director of Veterans for Peace, introduced the film.
Through interviews with LaVena’s parents, Dr. John and Linda Johnson, The Silent Truth relays the story of a family’s efforts to uncover the truth about their daughter’s death. Dr. Johnson has said that from the day LaVena’s body was returned to the family, he has been gravely suspicious about the real cause of her death.
Andrea Miller, coordinator of the Year of International Human Rights, said The Silent Truth reminds us that violence against women is still a prevalent issue, not only in the society at large, but also in the military. She said a 2003 study showed that one in three women is raped in the military, a rate that is higher than that of the society at large.
“This is clearly an issue that must be investigated,” Miller said. “As part of the 2010-11 Year of International Human Rights: Women’s Rights, The Silent Truth reminds us of the imperative that women have the right to physical safety, including during military service.”
Genevieve Read, a human rights sophomore, recently transferred to Webster from Wentworth Military Academy & College. After seeing The Silent Truth, she commented, “Provided that what was shown in the documentary was factual and that the family is not withholding information, I do believe that this case needs to be reexamined, especially in the assurance that all military protocol was adhered to.
“If and when the truth does come out about this case, perhaps it can be studied in the teaching of leadership ethics within the military.”
Human rights junior Jess Mitchell said she thought the film exemplified problems with the U.S. military today. She said she reacted in disbelief that “the military would treat a family like they did, with the obvious cover-up of a murder.”
“The overwhelming evidence that LaVena’s death was not a suicide, and the difficulty that even Congress had with forcing the military to admit the truth, which were all so clearly documented in the movie, will hopefully push the viewers to do something about this tragedy, whether it be through contributing money, writing letters, or telling the story to their friends and families.”
See a YouTube clip from LaVena Johnson: The Silent Truth.