“My rape was bad, but the way I was treated in the process was worse.”
The Hunting Ground is a documentary that explores the world of sexual assault on college campuses, and the processes through which those cases are handled. BlogDH went to IFF’s screening with the intention of gathering student reactions at the end of the film. The night did not go as expected. What started as a montage of adorable college acceptance videos, quickly escalated to a platform for the interwoven narratives of college sexual assault victims across the nation. The overarching theme was to follow the first two women in this movement to file a Title IX case against their school, UNC Chapel Hill. The personal story arcs for so many of the victims made the story hit close to home, with one student who exited the theater saying “that could be me.”
As the documentary layered the various complexities that victims face on college campuses, at times going against inert administrations, athletic infrastructures, and the fraternity system, one would stop to catch a breath and think, “this must be the end of the movie,” only to be hit with another punch to gut. When the film let out, very few attendees wanted to speak with us. Some shook their heads, declined to comment, and one person said, “I have no words.” We gathered what afterthoughts we could, but we also would like to acknowledge that the film was very intense, and many people were unable to talk about it immediately afterwards. Another student said, “I don’t know if I have anything positive on the subject,” illustrating the moroseness that hung over the audience, despite occasional messages of hope.
In many of the featured cases, students filing sexual assault charges were downright ignored. When you did see change, it was often followed by a lack of institutional memory. Many have clamored for college administrations to inform their student body of potentially dangerous areas on campus in regards to sexual assault. Wesleyan did that just a few years ago, by sending out an email warning incoming freshman to stay away from a certain fraternity house, because they could not secure it as a safe environment. It was met with outrage from alumni, parents, and some students. The next year, they did not send out the email, and by Halloween a student was raped in the fraternity house. Despite the anticipated backlash, another student leaving Granoff still insisted that “Brown-specific sexual assault data should be reported to students, because the issue goes well beyond protecting image (of the University).”
The success or, more aptly, the minimization of trauma in a case was also dependent on what status the perpetrator held in the school. One extremely poignant example was Jameis Winston, who is widely projected to be the top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. In his time at Florida State University, he was accused of sexual assault by two different female students. One of the students was interviewed in the film. She called the police the night of the incident; however, despite her expediency, Winston’s DNA was not tested in conjunction with her rape kit until a year later (after football season). The results were positive, but the FSU disciplinary courts found that Winston had not violated the student honor code. This was not the only instance highlighted in the film when Universities delayed investigations or punishments for athletes in order to ensure that they could participate in their college sports seasons. One Brown student did approach us to comment specifically on the lack of disciplinary action seen throughout the movie: “The most powerful piece for me was the contrast in the fact about UVA expulsions–183 for cheating and breaking the honor code, 0 for sexual assault. [Even though 205 cases were reported.] It was crazy to see how they’re willing to let rapists stay on campus, while they strictly enforce their academic honor code.”
Brown made two distinct appearances in the documentary. First, there was a newsreel shown from 1990 on the rape lists found in multiple bathrooms on campus. In the clip, a current student denounced the list makers to the camera, stating that many of the members on the list were friends in his fraternity, and he was positive they were not rapists. Another 90s Brown student said in an interview, “I think it’s wrong that if a woman says no and you have sex, you’re still considered a rapist.” Instead of pinning sexual assault as exclusively Greek problem, one of the film’s experts clarified that it’s not that the majority of fraternities rape, but that certain houses become dens for that behavior.
Andrew B. Brown, the featured survivor in January’s Huffpost article on Male Victims of Sexual Assault (written by a Brown graduate), had a brief cameo in the film, as well as being present for the screening. He described The Hunting Ground as “an incredibly hard film to watch, but that difficulty is necessary, because for so long this issue has been pushed under the rug. I’m happy that there’s a national platform for this conversation about how Brown and other schools hurt their students with mismanagement and complacency that lets this happen.”
Towards the end of the documentary, Diane Rosenfeld of Harvard Law School provides an analogy that has been subsequently highlighted by media outlets: If a school sent out a letter to the parents of incoming freshman, stating that there was a 1 in 4 or 5 chance that their son would be the victim of a drive-by shooting, and that the shooters would be fellow students, mom and dad would think twice about sending their child there. In the spirit of that comparison, Brown students described their reaction as “so [shocked], I couldn’t even believe it was real at a certain point.” An international student commented, “After watching that, I decided I am no longer going to graduate school. I need to stay away from this kind of environment. I’ll probably go to Canada or Europe instead.”
The film proposes statistics about this pressing issue. Less than 8 percent of men commit more than 90 percent of sexual assault crimes. The majority of men don’t rape and won’t rape. Those who do are usually repeat offenders. The best studies in the world place false reportage for rape between 2 and 8 percent, a figure consistent with most other types of crime in this country.
The Hunting Ground ends with the hope that these next few years will be the “watershed moment” for this issue. To sum up the thoughts of those BlogDH did speak to, we would emphasize the words powerful and relevant. Some expressed an interest for Brown’s administration to comment on the film, but most focused on a desire to see change. According to one student, the film “really captured the scale and depth of the problem well. It was all out there right in front of you…I hope universities will see this and take charge.” Another stated, “The film should be required during freshman orientations around the country.”