The Hunting Ground documentary, released in early 2015, examines sexual assault on college campuses and the deficient action of college administrations across the nation to acknowledge and retaliate against the epidemic. The film hits especially close to home as it concentrates on the Title IX movements by former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) students, Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino. The focus on direct testimonies of survivors, both male and female, The Hunting Ground provides an incredibly powerful vision into the horrors of on-campus sexual assault that 20% to 25% of women will experience.
Factual evidence interwoven with the testimonies enhances the strong emotional response evoked by the film. Watching as young women and men relived the traumas of not only rape but of harassment by college administrations and other students astounded me. My reaction heightened reading the shocking statistics backing these testimonials. For instance, the film noted 259 reported sexual assaults at Stanford University between 1996 and 2013. On average, that equates to over 15 accounts of reported sexual assault per year. Yet despite this tremendous number, the school expelled only one student. Other schools, including UNC and UVA, matched if not surpassed these numbers and Harvard remains one of the major perpetrators of mishandling assault cases.
I found especially insightful the film’s take on the common misconceptions about sexual assault reporting. Take for instance, the notion that the many young men will face undeserved future consequences despite innocence. The Duke Lacrosse Rape Case of 2006 definitely illuminates the dangers of false reporting and the consequences it could have on innocent lives. Similarly, the falsified Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape scandal further showcases how dishonest work could negatively impact a school’s reputation. However, as the film stresses, the percentage of false accusations remains incredibly small, especially compared to the number of victims who truthfully put their faith into their schools and confide in them their lived trauma. Furthermore, the documentary uses statistics to back its claims that, in fact, most of the men who do stand accused face neither expulsion nor any other disciplinary charges.
The film, though criticizing the actions of the abusers themselves, antagonizes the poor compliance of schools to Title IX procedures. I felt nauseated listening to one of the young women recall that a UNC official had told her, “Rape is like a football game.” To so outrightly diminish a person’s incredibly life-impacting experiences…I cannot begin to put my horrified reaction into words. My jaw dropped. From one woman to another, how could that metaphor ever seem appropriate? Still, even on Duke’s campus, I can definitely understand how administration may not put the safety of its students first—even from my freshman year on campus, there have been young men who many, many students know of having a reputation for sexual assault. Yet, these men still walk freely on our campus. The filmmakers point to the statistic that “8% of college men commit more than 90% of sexual assaults,” meaning that by allowing these men to stay on campus, Duke puts several more women at risk.
The Hunting Ground has received its fair share of critique, especially around some of the included statistics—which the filmmakers continue to stand by—and testimonials, namely that of Erica Kinsman against Jameis Winston. Kinsman’s case still arouses much controversy, with many across the web calling her a liar and “cleat chaser.” And while to some the inclusion of Kinsman’s testimony may seem to diminish the intended effect of the documentary, I thought the decision added to the point of the film—to give every person a voice and to trust the accuser, the victim. This much needed faith in hearing the stories of victims directly contrasts the lack of conviction by college administrations, and also many times the police force.
I knew The Hunting Ground would be a difficult film to watch. But the emotional level of disbelief, anger at injustice, and passion to join the cause and raise awareness? That took me by surprise. To me, this documentary strips down the widespread misconceptions and wrongful handling of sexual assault cases on college campuses and commands attention to the increasingly prevalent issue in our society. Since my initial viewing a week ago, I have watched this film twice more with others. I only hope that with our raised awareness as students and as the general public, college administrations will also begin implementing changes and protecting and ensuring the safety of its students.