The Hunting Ground: opening up the discussion about college sexual assault

It was time for a documentary about campus sexual assault.

Imagine you’re accepted to your first choice school, with no worries in that moment, just feelings of excitement and anticipation. You’re not aware of the big scary world out there, at least not until you have to face it. The place you might now call home could become your worst nightmare.

In "The Hunting Ground," director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, both from "The Invisible War," paint a clear picture in your head, that of a blissful ignorance. The movie starts off by showing YouTube videos of girls’ reactions to their college acceptances which ranged from ecstatic screams to hysterical crying.

The documentary was very statistic heavy. Think 1 in 5 undergraduate women or even 1 in 33 undergraduate men will be sexually assaulted while in college, and only 5% of these rapes will be reported. Even more shocking was the low numbers convicted of any crime or wrongdoing by the schools or police.

What was even more telling about these statistics is where the under-reporting comes from. Women and men come forward, tell their institution’s administration, and in order to keep sexual assault statistics low (for some completely nonexistent) they sweep it under the rug.

Despite the subject matter at hand, the film never leaned on being one-sided. Victims of campus sexual assault, former deans and professors, and even some college presidents were featured and interviewed in the film.

This film comes at an opportune time, months after President Obama has put pressure on our nation’s schools to abide by Title IX laws, protecting and giving rights to those students who experience sexual assault.

The timing was right, the message was right, but the statistics every five minutes and the panning back and forth between the personal accounts and different subtopics in campus sexual assault was headache-inducing.

Everything was all encompassing, it tackles every facet of sexual assault on a campus you can think of, from frat parties to entitled football players, to the weird freaks who can’t catch a clue.

The film touches on residential campuses, so if you go into the movie thinking, “well what about my community college?” then you might want to take the messages that you can and apply them where they may.

Dick and Ziering preceded the Invisible War (sexual assault in the military) with this movie after screening the movie at college campuses when people blatantly point out the need for a documentary about campus sexual assault.

Two of the main personal accounts featured in the film are those of Andrea Pino and Amy Clark who used the title IX laws to hold their alma mater UNC Chapel Hill accountable. The pair used their knowledge and passed it on to help other students battle their school's dismissive practices.

The film does a good job of reminding us that not all men are bad, and in fact, 8% of college men will commit sexual assault and are responsible for up to 91% of sexual assault crimes on campus. The need for education on this subject was not lost on the film.

Where the education needs to start is questionable in the film though, as there is a lot of victim shaming surrounding colleges. Picture one scene of a frat in retaliation to whistleblowers chanting outside of a sorority dorm, “No means yes, yes means anal.”

Not only are the accounts of the women horrific, but even more disheartening was the different administrations responses to the outcries of the women and reported sexual assaults. Questions followed like, “Were you drunk? how were you dressed? why didn’t you try to fight him off? Did you say no? How did you say no?”

Claims from men were treated as even more of a joke by administrations and not recognized. According to this approach, if you are a man then you are expected to have more willpower than a woman and that non-consensual sex doesn't happen between two men or even two women.

Featured were the main offenders of this problem, schools like Swarthmore, USC, Harvard, Notre Dame, and of course, where Pino and Clark went to school, UNC Chapel Hill. Dick and Ziering had no problem highlighting these colleges, including famous incidents of college presidents ignoring the problem, and also the infamous case with college football player Jameis Winston.

In the Q&A after the screening, there were questions like “Isn’t rape a crime?” that elicited the biggest face palms; however, some people actually asked thought-provoking questions that brought the issue full circle.

Pino started off by saying that anyone can do what she did. "I was just 20 years old and I had the library and I had my classroom materials and that's how I did what I did," she said.

The first question was from the facilitator of the Q&A, "How are you prepared to deal with the backlash from the film?"

Pino responded, "I was more terrified when I was on campus and I was dealing with this all the time. I was more likely to be targeted when people knew exactly where I was."

While Pino and Clark have come to terms with the film being made, there are still some girls from the film who have not publicly come out about their assaults yet.

One audience member asked, "What is the legislation that you're trying to pass and is it federal or local?"

The short answer is both.

Clark responded, "One of them that we can talk about is a federal bill that is a bipartisan effort, six republicans and six democrats, 'who ever saw that coming?'"

The act comes from Washington and is called the CASA Act (Campus Accountability and Safety Act).

The act's ramifications will introduce an incentive for universities to abide by federal laws rather than just go with a plea deal or affect federal funding of the universities in violation of federal law.

Another audience member asked, "What about prevention?"

Clark answered "There's no silver bullet solution because when you're stepping in the minute that something's about to happen it means that somebody's already thinking that that's an okay thing to do."

Clark believes education should start earlier in schools and by no means should the bystander approach be touted as the solution to sexual violence.

It was also asked if "The Hunting Ground" would be screening on college campuses. The movie is booked to screen at 50 college campuses nationwide and 600 requests to screen the movie have followed.

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