By Sydney Jean Gottfried
Filmmaker Kirby Dick’s chilling new documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” showcases the sexual assault epidemic plaguing college campuses across America. The film begins on a light note with a montage of high school seniors opening their acceptance letters to various colleges and universities. Soon after, the film’s tone takes a turn for the worse when one of the film’s featured survivors, Annie Clark, reveals that both she and one of her new friends were sexually assaulted before the end of their freshman orientation weekend. Clark goes on to share the frightening statistic that 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted before graduation. She adds that most of those women will be assaulted by someone they know.
It is the in-depth stories of several survivors told firsthand that make “The Hunting Ground” so difficult to watch. Two of the main stories the film are based around are of Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, who met after both having been assaulted at the University of North Carolina and denied any form of justice in the student conduct process. Another story is of Erica Kinsman, who you may remember as the girl who claimed Florida State’s star quarterback Jameis Winston assaulted her just before he won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. But she didn’t. She actually went to the police long before Winston had reached the national stage and was denied help from the Tallahassee Police Department to protect Florida State’s football program. She subsequently received death threats and was forced to withdraw from school.
Stories like these of sexual assault survivors becoming victims not only of their abuse, but also of their schools move “The Hunting Ground” audiences from pain to anger. So why are sexual assault survivors often ignored by their schools while their attackers are allowed to remain on campus? Because colleges and universities have financial and academic incentives to underreport incidences of sexual assault. Alumni are less likely to donate to schools with high rates of sexual assault; and universities will not risk their reputations by reporting real numbers, while peer institutions continue to underreport. Similarly, many universities will not suspend the Greek systems that facilitate sexual assault, as alumni who were in Greek life tend to donate more than those that were not. For these reasons, administrators often encourage sexual assault victims to remain quiet and consider whether or not reporting their assault is really worth it.
After multiple efforts to be heard by their own university failed, Annie Clark and Andrea Pino found a loophole. In 2013, they filed a lawsuit with the Department of Education claiming the University of North Carolina had violated federal laws under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in any federally funded educational institution that receives federal student aid. Title IX is usually known for guaranteeing equality in athletic programs but can also be used against universities that have ignored or discouraged allegations of sexual assault.
Clark says, “We do know Title IX is a civil rights law, but it’s in this framework that you’re not having an equal college experience and education because of what happened to you and how you’re treated after.”
Pino adds, “It’s the University’s responsibility to respond to a hostile climate, and sometimes it’s not rape. Sometimes it’s harassment, sometimes it’s threatening rape, sometimes it’s stalking. Just like when you see harassment happening in the workplace, it’s the employer’s responsibility to deal with that harassment.”
Since filing their complaint, Clark and Pino founded End Rape on Campus and have helped other survivors file complaints against their own universities. Largely due to their work, the number of Title IX complaints made against colleges grew from 17 in 2012 to 96 in 2014. Currently there are 95 universities officially under investigation of the Department of Justice. The names of those universities are available through the Department of Justice.
Clark and Pino have also worked with the Obama Administration to spark a national sexual assault discussion. The White House created a task force on campus sexual assault and has launched the “It’s on Us” campaign that encourages people to take a pledge to keep women and men safe from sexual assault and to promise not to be a bystander to the problem, but rather a part of the solution. In addition, Clark and Pino have worked with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who was featured in the film, to write and introduce the Campus Accountability & Safety Act that aims to protect students and boost accountability and transparency at colleges and universities.
All college students, including Georgetown students, should see the film. It’s an excellent insight into a world that many of us may not even know silently exists around us. Or even if you are aware, encourage your friends to go see the film to raise awareness of the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. What else can Georgetown students do? Get trained as a peer educator by Georgetown University Sexual Assault Peer Educators. Join the Sexual Assault Working Group. Become a member of the Student Conduct Hearing Board. Participate in Take Back the Night. No action is too small. Most importantly, believe and support any sexual assault victim that is brave enough to confide in you, because according to the statistics, victims of sexual assault are almost never lying.