‘The Hunting Ground’ offers powerful lessons on sexual violence

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Annie Elizabeth Clark, a UNC Chapel Hill graduate, says that when she confronted her school administrator about her rape, she was told: “Well, rape is like football. If you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback, Annie, is there anything you would have done differently?”

This analogy — which stings as if it were a wisecrack — is not what any sexual assault victim would expect to hear from any compassionate human being, let alone a school administrator. However, according to the film, it’s not far from what other survivors have reported hearing from school administrators and friends: “What were you wearing? How drunk were you? Why didn’t you fight back?”

“The Hunting Ground” centers on Clark and fellow Tar Heel Andrea Pino’s journey across the country to advocate against sexual violence on campus and their foundation End Rape on Campus, an organization that supports rape survivors and educates students on how to respond if they believe their school has failed to provide protection and justice. They are also the lead complainants of the 2013 Title IX and Clery Act complaints against their university.

The film also includes testimonies from students on how many universities — from UC Berkeley to Harvard — have handled this epidemic. Frightening, infuriating and absorbing, the documentary does more than provoke thought — the film urges the audience to participate in eliminating campus rape culture within their own communities.

Directed by Kirby Dick, “The Hunting Ground” marks the fourth collaboration in documentary filmmaking between Dick and producer Amy Ziering. Dick previously directed the Academy Award-nominated feature “The Invisible War,” which focuses on sexual assault in the United States military. The film employs the same advertising techniques that schools use to attract prospective students in campaign videos, such as aerial shots of the school grounds and background music from popular artists. Even Lady Gaga and renowned songwriter Diane Warren recorded the sentimental song “Till it Happens to You” for the film.

“The Hunting Ground” includes statistics and reports that highlight the issue’s prevalence, as well as testimonies from many women and a few men who have been sexually assaulted by their fellow schoolmates. One in five female college students has been sexually assaulted during their period on campus, according to a White House report, a daunting statistic that this film confronts head on.

In the documentary, the survivors talk about how school administrators left them with judgmental questions instead of consolation. Some of them did receive help from school officials, but felt those administrators could only do so much in implementing necessary discipline.

The film argues that protecting the school’s reputation is the main reason why school officials try so hard to keep assaults from going public. The film posits that representatives for the universities also stay mum if accusations are aimed at fraternities due to the monetary compensation members provide as alumni. Survivors have said that they face more challenges and criticism when accusing a student athlete of sexual assault.

In one of the most powerful segments, “The Hunting Ground” analyzes the rape allegations made by Erica Kinsman against former Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston. In the film, Kinsman says she was raped two years ago, putting the date of the incident before Winston’s rise to football fame. (He eventually won the 2013 Heisman Trophy and is rumored to be the number one draft pick for the 2015 NFL season.) Kinsman says that, after she went to the hospital and a rape kit was performed, she met with a police officer who told her, “This is a huge football town. You really should think long and hard about whether you want to press charges or not.” The film contends that Kinsman had provided sufficient information and evidence, but no progressive actions were ever made by the police.

The documentary expresses its anti-rape message with heart, honesty and a harrowing sense of realism, urging audiences to prevent their university from turning into a hunting ground. Powerful lessons abound for not just students, but all who watch the film.

Contact Majick Tadepa at [email protected].