Blog

epidemic

Critically Acclaimed & Critically Accused: How the response to The Hunting Ground perpetuates rape culture
Posted by On Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Hunting Ground is a documentary that shares the stories of sexual assault survivors from universities across the country. It not only focuses on the incidents themselves, but the aftermath of the assaults in which their institutions did little to nothing to remediate the situation, and oftentimes retraumatized the survivor by insinuating blame or not believing the survivor’s story.

The Hunting Ground connects the dots to show that campus rape is an epidemic, and that focusing on one individual story, or even one individual institution, isn’t doing justice to the issue. It also frankly discusses the corporatization of higher education and doesn’t shy away from the industrial components that interplay with campus sexual assault.

The film portrays much of what we know to be true about campus sexual assault. Many of the survivors who are featured discuss that the person who assaulted them was someone they knew. Many of the survivors also disclosed that they were hesitant to report through their campus and that they have yet to tell their families. Many survivors shared that the incident involved either members of athletics or Greek life. And sadly, nearly every survivor shared that their school’s response was lacking, harmful, and insufficient.

Unfortunately, the film also shows us something else that we know to be true: people are unwilling to believe survivors. Despite having a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, the media response to the film has been highly critical, with journals and newspapers staunchly attempting to disprove the stories of survivors, and by calling the film “inaccurate and incomplete,” “poorly substantiated,” and as “spreading myths.”

As found in the Association of American Universities climate survey results, less than a quarter of incidents are reported. The most common reason for not reporting sexual assault was that it was “not considered serious enough,” with high numbers also in feeling “embarrassed or ashamed” and “did not think anything would be done.”

When much of the public discourse around a film about campus sexual assault is disbelief and contention, what is to encourage survivors to report their assault? The Hunting Ground attempts – and succeeds – in showing the epidemic of campus rape, but ironically it is the response to it that succeeds in showing a broader rape culture that permeates beyond college campuses to our entire society.

Instead of discussing the broader implications of the vast amount of evidence and personal stories that The Hunting Ground presents, critics have narrowly focused on trying to disprove two of the most high-profile incidents presented. The acute simplification of focusing on these two cases, one involving a prominent college football quarterback and one involving an elite law school, does a few things. First, it misses the point of the film. By focusing on a couple cases, the representation of campus sexual assault as an epidemic is overlooked. By attempting to prove that the stories presented are inaccurate or incomplete, critics are perpetuating the societal problem of the overestimation of false rape reports. For those who are interested, the actual percentage of false reporting of rape tends to fall between 2 and 8%, which aligns with the rate of false accusations for other felonies.

Second, the narrow focus on challenging the two most high-profile cases replicates some of the main institutional problems that the film details. Even though there seems to be strong public support for the film itself – as displayed by the acclaim from Sundance, Entertainment Weekly, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes – media and public discourse have tried to coopt the story by focusing on a sliver of what is truly an epidemic. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the majority of attention has been focused on these two cases; the two where the American society has the most to lose. There seems to be a willful ignorance that is reinforcing the sense that when the accused institution or individual is high-profile, with high societal regard and yielding high profits, the public is predisposed to doubt the survivor. Not only is the survivor unlikely to be believed, but there is a heavy investment in advocating for the innocence of the accused, even going as far as to blaming and shaming the accuser. When the fault in a sexual assault case lands upon a person or institution that is highly funded, positively regarded, a national symbol of success, etc., there is little chance that the survivor will come out on top.

But maybe there is hope. Is any attention good attention when it comes to these issues? The survivors who present their stories in The Hunting Ground have decided to put the cause before themselves. They have become activists and have sacrificed their personal well-being to do so. The individuals seen in the film have received threats, are constantly being questioned and challenged, and in many cases are being portrayed in negative light. However, they have also forced the issue of campus rape into the national headlines. They have put the rape epidemic on the map and are forcing the media and public to take note. As campus administrators, invested community members, and social justice educators, we owe something to these, and all, survivors. An easy way to remember how to support survivors is through the acronym HEAL: Honor, Empower, Accept, and Listen. The following screen shots from Think About It are a good baseline for how to respond when someone discloses sexual assault. If you hear people challenging the stories of the survivors in The Hunting Ground, remind them of these suggestions.

article_ifSomeoneIKnowRaped_genderNeutral1article_ifSomeoneIKnowRaped_genderNeutral2

Talk About It!Share on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrEmail this to someone

Looking Back on ATIXA
Posted by On Friday, October 17, 2014

We just got back from ATIXA, where we spent three days attending sessions, meeting educators and advocates, and learning a lot. It was a profoundly humbling experience as we got to know many of the remarkable people working hard to end campus sexual violence.

In the conference’s first session, activist and health educator LB Klein set the tone for the conference. She pointed out that the media’s narratives of campus sexual assault have framed the issue as an epidemic. The danger of this angle, she argued, is that it urges us to pursue quick fixes. But, of course, sexual violence on college campuses is not a new issue.

For example, in the National Institute of Justice’s 2000 study The Sexual Victimization of College Women, researchers estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 women experienced attempted or completed rape while in college. In 2007, NIJ researchers found similar numbers. In fact, these numbers remain largely unchanged from what Mary Koss found in her groundbreaking studies in the 80s.

In order to gain a clearer perspective on the issue, Klein encouraged us to reframe the problem as one “endemic” to college campuses. Instead of quick fixes, she stressed, this reframing underscores the need for deep and thoughtful solutions that can be sustained over time and, of course, the need for significant investment in time and resources.

Klein’s message was echoed in many of the presentations. Indeed, another recurring theme of the conference was the importance of self-care for educators and advocates. Several speakers pointed to high turnover due to burnout and “compassion fatigue.”

However, if the problem has been persistent, there are signs that national attention is turning to this issue and others like it. Howard Kallem, a former attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), cited statistics that suggest the OCR’s caseload is increasing. According to Kallem, in 2003 the OCR only closed 5141 cases. In 2014 that number stands at 9916. Hopefully these changes indicate that the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Next week, we’ll explore some of the other issues and ideas that came up during the conference.

 

Talk About It!Share on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrEmail this to someone