“The Hunting Ground” exposes mistreatment of collegiate sexual assault survivors

By Ife Olujobi

via NY Times
via NY Times

It would be easy to assume that the turn in national attention towards the issue of college campus rape over the past year was purely coincidental – another tragedy getting its 15 minutes of pity.  However, in “The Hunting Ground,” Emmy award-winning documentary writer/director Kirby Dick sets out to shed light on this ongoing epidemic of violence against women (and men) by following a pair of sexual assault survivors in their fight for validation and justice against scrutiny, harassment, ignorance, and established collegiate institutions.

Annie Clark and Andrea Pino were students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when they were raped. Clark was a freshman but didn’t go public with her story until years later after she had already graduated, when Pino was a sophomore and contacted Clark to share her experiences of abuse.  Inspired by the outpour of survivor stories they received from students at their school and colleges all over the country, Clark and Pino try to use statues of Title IX legislation to reform administrative policies on how colleges and universities report and handle sexual assault complaints.  “The Hunting Ground” profiles these two brave women, as well as many others from the network of sexual abuse survivors they cultivated along the way.

Dick and producer Amy Ziering, previously known for the Academy Award-nominated doc “The Invisible War,” about rape in the military, capitalize on the personal testimonies of assault as the main method of communicating the baffling apathy and resistance of educational institutions and police in investigating sexual assault claims.  He also presents textual statistics on reports of rape in colleges, the dismal punishments received by offenders (if any), sexual assault in Greek life, and interviews with former college administrators who dealt with the politics and economics of rape reporting first-hand.

The film also aims to dispell the myth of false reporting as well, providing the statistic that false reports only account for 2-10% of all rape claims. This myth is used to routinely silence victims such as Erica Kinsman, who not only had to take a class with her rapist (NFL prospect Jameis Winston) but also see him cleared of all wrongdoing and go on to win a Heisman trophy to the adulation of her entire university. Kinsman’s story also shows that the filmmakers aren’t afraid to name names when it comes to those who perpetrated the crimes.

Dick and Ziering also feature three male sexual assault survivors to give a face to the small fraction of men – one in 33 –  who are sexually assaulted in college, and the even smaller fraction of those who do report for fear of social stigma.

However, in tackling such a one-sided issue, Dick doesn’t shy away from layering on the sentimentality – which mostly comes naturally through the heartbreaking testimonies of the survivors or is earned through rousing moments in the fight for reform – and at times his hand is a little too present (the graphics were a little cluttered, and the musical choices are cliché and distracting, only serving to emphasize points that needed no further emphasis).

Nonetheless, “The Hunting Ground” presents facts and stories that can’t be ignored and is a must-see for high school and college students, parents, administrators, alumni, and hopefully politicians who can enact the change the system desperately needs.

“The Hunting Ground” is now playing in select theaters.

Ife Olujobi is a senior editor.  Email her at iolujobi@nyunews.com

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