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the hunting ground

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.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 27, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have wearable technology that could make it easier for students to party smart and look out for one another, a profile of an activist who leveraged the Internet and social media to make campuses safer for women, and the creators of The Hunting Ground on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Party Smart Wearables

Could wearables (wearable technology a la Apple’s soon-to-be-released Apple Watch) help keep students safe (or at least safer) when they drink? A team of students from the University of Washington think the answer is yes, and to prove it they’ve conceived of a smart bracelet that could monitor BAC and dehydration when students go out. The Vive, which currently exists only as an idea, not a working prototype, would alert students to their level of intoxication, check in periodically to make sure students were in control, and alert friends when the wearer became too drunk to respond to those check-ins. There’s also a social element in the form of a feature that would allow Vive users to connect with each other by touching their bracelets. Whether the Vive comes to fruition or not, the concept is a useful example of the power of technology to enable students to party more carefully and to take care of their friends.

Using the Web and Social Media to Fight Sexual Assault

While the Vive is an example of a nascent idea for potential new technology , this profile of activist Wagatwe Wanjuki, published as part of MSNBC’s series for Women’s History Month, demonstrates the power of (relatively) familiar and established technologies: social media and the Internet. The profile and accompanying interview highlight Wanjuki’s use of social media and the web, starting with her anonymous blog which led to the creation and dissemination of an online petition that precipitated a Department of Education civil rights investigation of her alma mater, Tufts University. Wanjuki also created the nationally-trending hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege in response to columnist George Will’s unfortunate claim that surviving an assault granted “a coveted status that confers privileges.” In the piece, she talks about using the Internet to connect with other activists and victim/survivors and its power as “a great amplifier of the work.”

The Hunting Ground, Rape Myths, and the Daily Show

If you follow this blog you’ll already have heard quite a bit about The Hunting Ground, the new documentary that focuses on campus rape and the all-too-often inadequate response to it. This interview with the film’s director, Kirby Dick, and producer, Amy Zeiring, is well worth a watch not only for the insightful humor from host Jon Stewart but also for Zeiring’s succinct refutation of unfortunately prevalent and damaging myths about false rape reports.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 13, 2015

An interview with the director of new documentary The Hunting Ground, the Clery act turns 25, and the OCR reveals it is investigating four more schools—pushing the total over 100.

The Hunting Ground Director on Courageous Survivors and the Birth of the Film

An interview with Director Kirby Dick about his latest documentary, The Hunting Ground, offers a disturbing portrait of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses as he describes “hearing the same story over and over” when interviewing victim/survivors about their assault, sexual predators, and the institution’s response. This interview with Dick in the National Post offers sobering insight into the process of the film’s creation. Dick talks about how the conversation sparked by campus screenings of his previous film, The Invisible War, which dealt with sexual assault in the military, led him and producer Amy Zeiring to make a documentary about the same crime in the context of higher education. During Q&As after showing The Invisible War, students quickly turned the discussion to campus sexual assault and then he started getting emails and letters asking him to “please make a film.” Dick says it’s exciting to see the courage of college-aged advocates who “take on their institutions…to create this national debate,” but creating safe campus environments “should be on everyone.”

Clery Act Turns 25

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Clery Act, named in memory of Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh freshman who was sexually assaulted and murdered in her dorm. The law requires colleges and universities to disclose reports of crimes committed on and near campus. Earlier this month marked the second anniversary of the Campus SaVE Act  that expanded higher education institutions’ crime reporting requirements to include relationship violence, stalking, and hate crimes based on gender identity and national origin.   In addition, the Campus SaVE Act requires colleges and universities to develop comprehensive prevention programs to train students and employees how to recognize, report, respond to, and prevent campus sexual violence.

OCR Now Investigating Over 100 Schools

Last week we reported that Grinnell College has requested an OCR investigation of their own sexual assault investigation procedures. This week we have a story that makes it clear that if that request is granted, Grinnell will be far from alone. In fact, as of this month, the Office for Civil Rights is investigating over a hundred schools for possible non-compliance with Title IX and the Clery act, an all-time high. When the OCR first released the list of schools under investigation last April there were fifty-five schools under investigation.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 30, 2015

A new documentary focuses on college sexual assault, a smartphone app aims to help victim/survivors in Washington D.C. and male victim/survivors struggle to find support.

The Hunting Ground

In 2013 Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering shocked the nation with their documentary Invisible War, which focused on sexual assault in the United States Military. Now, they’re turning their camera on American colleges, with The Hunting Ground, which premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival. According to The New York Times, “audience members repeatedly gasped as student after student spoke on camera about being sexually assaulted—and being subsequently ignored or run through endless hoops by college administrators concerned about keeping rape statistics low.” Set to be released in theaters and air on CNN, and already receiving attention from powerful politicians, including Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand, this documentary seems ready to focus even more much-needed attention on campus sexual assault.

ASK Aids DC Victim/Survivors

Washington D.C. offers some of the most comprehensive support in the country for victim/survivors of sexual assault, including guidance from a professional sexual assault counselor, a free ride to Washington D.C. forensic hospital MedStar Washington, and STD tests and HIV-medication free of charge. None of those resources do much good, however, if victim/survivors don’t know they exist or how to access them. That’s where the app Assault Services Knowledge (UASK, in its university specific form) comes in to play. Developed by the group Men Can Stop Rape in conjunction with District of Columbia Mayor’s Office of Victims Services, ASK makes it simple to access available resources by compiling contact information for all local services. The app has already been downloaded 14,000 times, but the ultimate goal is to get the word out to all of Washington’s 100,000 college students and 650,000 residents.

Male Survivors

In a study of male college students, 1 in 25 reported they had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. A male advocacy group estimates the rate of victimization is much higher at 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted before age 18. Despite those figures, even a more-than-casual follower of discussions around campus sexual assault might be forgiven for thinking that male victimization is rare or even non-existent. The vast majority of attention focuses on female victim/survivors. Yet, as this profile of a male victim/survivor at Brown University makes clear, that lack of attention can have serious negative consequences for men who experience sexual violence. Societal expectations about masculinity and stereotypes about male victim/survivors, particularly gay male victim/survivors, can discourage reporting or make it more difficult for those who do report to make their stories heard.

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