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Documentary highlights survivors’ search for justice

'The Hunting Ground' features interviews with numerous campus sexual assault survivors
University Business, April 2015

A new documentary is sparking calls for reform on campuses across the country for humanizing a topic that is too often conveyed in the media as a set of statistics.

The Hunting Ground features interviews with numerous campus sexual assault survivors who tell of their frustration with getting justice from a system that often protects perpetrators.

According to a study by the Center for Public Integrity, “Students found ‘responsible’ for sexual assaults on campus often face little or no punishment from school judicial systems, while their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down.”

Filmmakers Kirby Dick​ and Amy Ziering previously approached the subject in a different context, highlighting sexual assault in the military in the Oscar-nominated film The Invisible War.

Their new film takes look at the reasons sexual assault survivors often feel betrayed by their institutions. “We quickly realized that this was not a problem on just a few campuses,” Dick said in an interview on Canadian television. “We could have just randomly chosen a school and made a feature film on it, and we would have had enough material to make a very powerful film.”

Last May, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a list of 55 schools that are under investigation for possible violations in the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

Campus sexual assault realities

  • 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults against college women aren’t reported to police.
  • Women between 18 and 24 are more likely to be victims than those in any other age group.
  • About 80 percent of women say they knew the offender, with the majority victimized by a “well-known/casual acquaintance.”
  • Nonstudent women are 1.2 times more likely than their student peers to be victims of rape or sexual assault.
  • While women make up the vast majority of rape and sexual assault victims, 17 percent of college-age victims are male.
  • SOURCE: Department of Justice survey

The Hunting Ground has been scheduled for screenings at more than 1,000 campuses to date, and those who saw it in its opening days took to Twitter and other social media forums to express outrage over the film’s findings.

Julie Hanna (@JulesHanna) of social activism site Kiva noted, “Colleges have a powerful financial and reputational incentive to cover up and deny the epidemic of sexual assault.”

NYU graduate student Ana Fonseca (@afpauthz) posted, “In 1 hour and 30 minutes, The Hunting Ground made me feel so many intense emotions for rape victims on college campuses.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, some also claim the film is sensationalized, especially in its treatment of one athlete—a likely NFL first-round draft pick—named in the film.

“[It’s a] shame people can put false info in a video and people will take it as fact just because it’s labeled a documentary,” notes a sports-based website called HashtagFacts. “Even sadder, people assume guilt on someone based on stats already proven wrong and retracted because ‘odds are likely guilty,’ regardless of facts.”

Dick said that many of the accused people named in the film were given a chance to comment, yet none responded.

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