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South Dakota man has Oscar connection

"The Invisible War," examines what it calls an "epidemic" of rape in the U.S. military. Retired Marine and former Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent Stace Nelson, Fulton, S.D., is one of the film's featured experts.

FULTON, S.D. -- One of this year's Oscar-nominated documentaries includes commentary by a Fulton, S.D., man.

The film, "The Invisible War," examines what it calls an "epidemic" of rape in the U.S. military. Retired Marine and former Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent Stace Nelson is one of the film's featured experts.

In the documentary, Nelson, 45, talks about his experiences with the NCIS and his frustration with how the military handled rape and sexual assault cases.

"Some were so egregiously handled," Nelson said. "At the time, I talked to my supervisor and shared my frustrations on catching rapists, on the catch and release."

While on active duty and as a civilian working for NCIS, Nelson was stationed in Japan. He had knowledge of about 14 rapes per year and hundreds of sexual assaults, he said. He worked with others to create a rape prevention and awareness program in the Navy for service members and families.

Nelson said the filmmakers contacted him in summer 2011, looking for someone who had recent experience as an NCIS agent. Nelson retired in 2008 and has since been elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives.

"I'm not sure how they came across me -- maybe because I have a Web presence from running for office," he said.

'Cultural mindset'

Nelson was flown to Hollywood for the interview and gave consulting assistance regarding rape and sexual assault criminal investigations and prosecutorial procedures. He said his interview for "The Invisible War" lasted about 90 minutes and included questions about how the military handled some of the most difficult cases he worked.

"I gave a broad spectrum of what I saw. A lot of it was the cultural mindset, especially in the 1990s," he said. "The mindset was the military was for men and a lot of people had a lot of stupid ideas about women in the military."

He is briefly featured on the movie's trailer, which can be viewed on the website

He said not only did men have misconceptions about women's roles in the military, but many female high-ranking commanders did, too.

"We had to overcome that and re-educate people and try to catch the criminals," he said of the NCIS.

While investigating cases, Nelson said humanity and compassion always took precedence. Providing a safe environment for victims to tell their stories was important.

"Showing that type of humanity never did me wrong," Nelson said. "To provide them with security, ensure they are not going to be harmed while in that presence, makes the difference for them. It's a small consolation in working those cases."

Nelson said in many of the cases he worked, the perpetrators were not brought to proper justice. He called it frustrating because the victims were traumatized, but the perpetrators received little to no consequences.

Some sort of justice

He said the victims who appear in "The Invisible War" at least receive some sort of justice in being able to tell their stories and give others courage.

"There's a satisfaction that the movie made such an impact," Nelson said, adding that he's received many comments about the documentary and his appearance in it. "With this movie, the military has taken a serious look at the issue and is making changes from the top down."

Nelson plans to watch the broadcast of the Academy Awards show with friends at the Coonhunter Inn in Epiphany, S.D.

"I'm delighted the film received as much attention as it has," Nelson said. "I'm appreciative that it's put a bright spotlight to the problem in society and the military."

"The Invisible War" is nominated in the Documentary Feature category alongside four other films: "5 Broken Cameras," "The Gatekeepers," "How to Survive a Plague" and "Searching for Sugar Man." The presentation of this year's Academy Awards will be televised live at 6 p.m. Sunday on ABC.