Some statistics: 16 to 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted in college. 88 percent of women assaulted do not report the crimes. Less than eight percent of men on college campuses commit 90 percent of sexual assaults. Although less than four percent of college males are athletes, they commit at least 19 percent of sexual assaults.
Oh, but colleges and universities across the nation have been cracking down on what’s being called a nationwide epidemic. For example, in 2012, 45 percent of colleges reported a whopping zero sexual assaults on their campuses. That is absolutely unbelievable…no, I mean I actually find that hard to believe.
Now I’m not an expert on sexual assaults (or anything, really), nor is it news that I follow on a regular basis. Hell, for the longest time, I didn’t even think I knew anyone who had ever been sexual assaulted. Granted, that number has only gone from zero to one, but the point I’m making is that it isn’t something I myself have kept track of. Of course, campus rape is an ongoing, complex issue that makes you question not the victims themselves- though that seems to be the case a lot- but the institutions that promise to give so much to students, yet often fail them.
And this is what can make The Hunting Ground a bleak, yet somewhat uplifting documentary to watch.
I approach this a tad differently than I would a film or television show because this is a documentary. There’s no three act structure. There are protagonists, antagonists, and an open-ended conclusion, but, like most documentaries, this film is here to present you with information. If you’ve followed the campus rape crises, chances are a lot of this information and even the statistics given are things you already know. That’s fine. However, I still feel that there’s something to gain from watching this film.
One professional reviewer went as far as to say that the documentary should be made mandatory for anyone attending college. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do think anyone, whether college-age or above, can learn something here, if you don’t lose faith in university administration, anyway.
The film is deceptive with its opening, but I think that’s intentional. We start off with a video montage of high school seniors reacting to their college acceptance letters.
Okay, I need to be cynical and crass for a moment, but I must wonder aloud why we’re in such an age where we need to have a video reaction to everything that we see. Think about how many YouTube videos you can find of people reacting to movie trailers, television shows, and audience reactions. There are some YouTube channels that are nothing but people reacting to stuff that others have watched. Why do that in the first place? Part of me wants to blame the explosion of reactions to the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones, but I’m certain that this began well before that. My point is that we don’t need to see your facial expressions, screams, and cries as you react to something that I’ve already seen. Are you doing it for posterity? Stop it. Stop it right now.
I can have an opinion on things too, you know.
Anyway, we get a series of prospective college students reacting happily to the news that they’re about to spend the next few years at a prestigious institution. We watch both parents and children react with joy and absolute elation, see the move-in process as kids leave home and go on their own, and see university presidents and officials deliver speeches filled with optimism about the future.
The next generation of students have untapped potential and everyone at these institutions are here to provide guidance that will lead the students to their moment. Right from the start, there’s a real sense of hope and confidence that incoming students will enjoy the next few years and if they have any issue at all, the university system will be there for them.
Then we’re introduced to two students: Andrea Pino and Annie Clark. This film is still a documentary that discusses ongoing campus rape, yes, but the story outside of this revolves around the efforts put forth by these two women, spearheaded after their own respective assaults. While the documentary itself is still great to watch, I do like that we’re given two people to follow because it helps place their stories in a larger context instead of making them feel like isolated incidents, because they aren’t.
The first, Andrea Pino, was a high school valedictorian and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sounds promising, until that spring when a guy she thought was a nice guy banged her head on the bathroom tiles and then had his way with her. She didn’t scream, though. At that point, you just hope that you don’t die. Pino, however, wasn’t the only one assaulted that weekend.
We then have Annie Clark, another UNC Chapel Hill alumna who had been assaulted. Apparently, sexual assaults are enormous on college campuses, but few actually speak up about it. Hell, two of Clark’s friends were assaulted before classes even started.
From this, the film divides into two: we follow Andrea and Annie’s efforts and outreach with campus rape, but we’re also given a significant amount of history, statistics, testimonies, and issues related to this subject, just to name a few.
I’ve heard of a few isolated incidents of campus rape here and there, but unless it worked its way into the mainstream, it wasn’t something I followed. Also, I never got the sense that it was as large as the film made it out to be. That’s not to say I thought it only happened at certain campuses and not others at all, but the list was staggering. I mean, UNC, Stanford, University of Virginia, Florida State University, MIT, University of Southern California, Swarthmore, Brandeis, University of Connecticut, Yale, Tufts, George Mason, George Washington…Harvard Law School? And those are just the ones I managed to write down while taking notes in the cinema.
On the surface level, one wouldn’t think there’s much that connects the schools, but you’d be wrong. That’s my naïveté showing, but the film does a good job shining a spotlight on these institutions and how they apparently failed to protect the students.
Before and after the assaults, there’s a lot of hope from both the victims and their parents that the collegiate system will be with them, when that ends up not being the case. Despite how candid the retellings by a number of victims, many of the tales end with disappointment. Part of this is due to victim blaming.
If you’ve heard of SlutWalk, then you’re well familiar with this already. What were you wearing? How much did you have to drink? Did you scream for help? Why didn’t you bite off his cock and take it with you to Heaven?
Hell, Clark shares that a female advisor told her that rape is just like a football game. First off, what? Second, the hell? Third, I emphasize female because you’d think a lot of the folks blaming or looking down on victims would be men, but no. Clearly there’s no solidarity among genders here, not that there ever was.
However, there seems to be some semblance of solidarity among university officials when it comes to suppressing knowledge on these cases, but the question is why? Well, colleges are a business, don’t you know? See, the universities have to protect their brand, so, if need be, it’s important to suppress information. Obviously college entrance rates would drop if parents received letters saying that there’s been a significant amount of sexual assaults on their campuses.
Now that’s where things get hazy: do colleges take the risk of keeping parents and students well aware at the risk of lower acceptance rates or sweep everything under the rug and make promises for change? The answer may seem obvious, but not to those who have brands to protect.
And there are other reasons, too. Alumni, particularly those in fraternities, contribute large sums of money to their alma maters. You don’t want the well to dry up because you’re known as a rape-tolerant campus, do you? The issue appears to be that some universities’ priorities don’t align with that of victims. Universities want to do right by students, but they also have an image to maintain. Money speaks louder than rape victims, apparently.
That said, the tone some university officials took in the film was quite striking. It felt like career politicians reading off a script, the amount of times officials said they would take reports ‘very seriously.’ It helps to have a media sound byte out there so you can point back and say that you’re doing your job to help the victim, you know?
But even then, that goes a step further when it comes to outright denying victim claims. Using words like false, untrue, and ‘just plain wrong’ discredit a victim’s story. Who are you going to believe? The heads of prestigious universities or some girl or guy that some think may have had too much to drink?
I’m asking far too many questions for what’s supposed to be me giving my take on a documentary.
While the answer would be obvious, a lot of people have reasons to doubt victims. After all, if there is no evidence outside of a story, people will be skeptical, and they’ve been fooled before. The film does address false rape allegations and yes, they do exist, but they take up such a small percentage. Problem with that is that even just one false allegation gives people reason to disbelieve any ‘so-called victims’ who comes forward with the truth or those who choose to believe them. I hope I’m not the only person thinking of “Jackie” and the Rolling Stone right now.
Are there occasional false rape allegations? Of course there are, if the Duke lacrosse and Wanetta Gibson cases are any indication, but because we like the slippery slope argument, one false claim obviously means that the others must be scrutinized, analyzed, and criticized. That is literally the only logical path. Sure, circumstances and the people involved may be different, but they are the exact same thing. If one person lied, everyone else did. Of course I’m not being serious here.
And therein lies the problem with false allegations: they discredit the people who do wish to come forward not just because of not being taken seriously, but the stigma that comes with having to relive your tale. I must applaud the number of women who chose to step forward and share their numerous tales despite what they went through having to go through their assaults.
These aren’t women giving us crocodile tears and sobbing uncontrollably as they talk about having their maidenhood assaulted. They’re real people who were violated and now wish to have a voice and say in an ongoing campus problem. It’s disheartening to see how much trust was placed in these institutions, then to see no action.
There’s one woman, Kamilah Willingham, for example, who attended Harvard Law School. She and a friend went out and a guy bought them a round. Next thing she knew, she’s on a bed and the guy is fondling her friend, who is now naked. Strange, as she wasn’t naked before. More than that, he says that he only put a finger in her at most. At most. Willingham and her mother thought that Harvard would get them justice, but nothing came of it. I felt a bit miffed watching these stories reach dead ends with no results, if I’m honest.
But, as some often ask, what about the people who commit the crimes? How about those whose lives may be ruined by an allegation? Shouldn’t they have a say in this? Isn’t their side of the story just as important?
Actually, yes, the film does address that. This film isn’t here to take sides as much as it is to inform, but if I can applaud the film for anything, it’s for letting a perpetrator talk about what he’d done. Granted, his face was blurred out, we never got his name, and I personally have no idea whether his voice had been altered, but the point is that he came forward to talk about what he’d done, his incarceration, and how he wants to help so no one does what he does. It’s brief, but hey, at least one person copped to what he did.
In addition, the film does speak with a few male victims of rape. Sounds like a paradox when you say it since there’s this commonly held belief that guys can’t be victims because…well, they’re guys. They’re rough men who can fight off anything. If they were assaulted, they either wanted it or had it coming. I’m reminded of the Law & Order: SVU episode “Ridicule” where a similar scenario happens and the victim isn’t taken seriously because he’s a guy. But, as the documentary shows, no, it does happen, but men are conditioned to not say anything because they’ll be seen as weak.
The same applies to women because of the ridicule they’ll go through. Fear is a powerful weapon and it keeps people quiet. Also, some don’t tell their parents because then they’ll have that conversation. More than that, there are all of the issues that plague them after their assaults. Crying, panic attacks, self-harm, suicide attempts- these are all things I’d expect from returning soldiers, but again, campus rape is not my area of expertise, so I can’t say I’m familiar with what rape victims go through. Chalk it up to my naïveté since this isn’t something I research. Ignorant, I know.
But some take it to the extreme because no one is willing to be there for them. There’s one girl, Lizzy Seeberg, who attended Saint Mary’s College, for example. She’d been assaulted by a football player. Unlike a lot of stories, this one was mostly told from the perspective of Seeberg’s father. Part of me wondered why Lizzy herself wasn’t telling some of this tale, given the amount of victims we’d seen do so already, only for Father Seeberg to reveal that Lizzy eventually committed suicide.
Ah…well, fuck me.
So if the system fails you and your friends fail you, what is the next viable path, then? Some unfortunately choose Seeberg’s path because they had believed the college institutions would be there for them. But the film shows that, often times, the treatment by peers and administrators can often be worse than the act itself.
That extends to the retaliation as well, both in-person and online. We see victims’ rooms trashed and watch keyboard warriors make threats online. There’s even a sequence where Pino, Clark, and another victim whose name I can’t remember read a message board. The third victim’s name is included in a sentence written in a foreign language. They find it odd until they translate the sentence, which means that the poster thinks that the victim should be destroyed. Well.
Is this the rape culture that people speak of? Where this sort of perverse behavior is encouraged? Or do the people committing the crimes feel they’re doing no wrong? There’s a brief look back at 1979 where reporters talk to men talking about a list of alleged rapists’ names scrawled on a bathroom wall. The men are aghast. Just because a woman said no and you still have sex with her, does that make you a rapist? The answer is obviously yes, as a young woman yelled out in the cinema, but to these guys, the answer somehow eludes them. To them, as the adage goes, boys will be boys. What is consent, anyway?
Yeah, you’d expect this film to touch upon Greek life. Side-note, fraternities seem to be in a lot of hot water nowadays, or maybe they always have been and, like the assaults, all problems have just been swept under the beer soaked rug. So let’s talk about the fraternities. Now, of course not every single Chapter of every fraternity ever has this sort of issue and one can hardly blame a few incidents at select fraternities as indicative of Greek life as a whole, but there’s a good reason to.
Are some of these fraternity members just naïve or stupid? Remember the whole “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal” nonsense that fraternities such as Phi Delta Theta had to deal with? Is this meant to be funny? It isn’t. Some just take pride in being predators, I suppose. It’d be easy to blame the national organizations, but responsibility starts with the individual. So when fraternities put up signs thanking parents for their daughters, when females are let into frat parties en masse without having to pay covers, and when they’re encouraged to drink themselves stupid, who can be blamed but the organizers themselves, especially when they use alcohol as a weapon before using their cocks as weapons?
Frat parties can often be traps. Blame goes on the institutions for not keeping an eye on this, sure, but the individual members also deserve some level of blame. At the very least, people are at least smart about where to go and what to avoid. Sigma Alpha Epsilon, for example, apparently has another unofficial name: “Sexual Assault Expected.” Plus, keep an eye out for rape dungeons. Well, I’ll give people this, at least they’re to the point.
Sex is a game to many. I mean, it shouldn’t be, by any means, unless you’re playing something like Leisure Suit Larry. My point is some members of some fraternities have effectively turned sexual experiences into stories of conquests, like a game of cat and mouse. We see that some members swap tales of their experiences. Apparently you get bonus points if you put it in her butt. What is this fascination with surprise butt sex?
But, again, if colleges warned students that rapes take place at certain frat houses, only the universities stand to lose: admission rates could drop, interested people would be less likely to pledge, and alumni would be less likely to donate. See, all a business decision. Fraternities are about more than guys and gals walking around in Greek letters. It’s a lifelong commitment that you pledge yourself to, but it obviously doesn’t give you a license to assault. You can’t just think that a girl is going to throw herself or fall into your hands and won’t say no because of the implication.
So then why don’t the institutions just distance themselves from the fraternities? Because, again, there’s money to lose and colleges already appear to be aware of these incidents, but for the sake of keeping up appearances, they just leave the matter alone. It’s a battle going up against the Greek system.
But you know what? It’s an even bigger hurdle going up against college athletes. As the film mentions, the world of college athletes can be a toxic environment where the athletes themselves are treated like celebrities. Authority figures are told to not proceed with allegations and if punishment is doled out, it would happen after a giant game.
Hell, the documentary surprised me when we got a montage of college football fans blaming one Erica Kinsman, saying she was jealous of the treatment her alleged abuser gave her. Kinsman gave a very candid description of what she endured at the hands of a Florida State University football player. The guy even gave her a ride back on his scooter. Kinsman later was then able to identify the individual since she took a class with him.
Yeah, you all know who I’m talking about. I’d heard Jameis Winston’s name pop up a lot in 2014 not in relation to this matter, but his football prowess. As far as I know, he’s slated to be selected for the 2015 NFL draft. I don’t follow football either, but I do remember that much. Winston is a very public and well-known figure because of both the allegation and his football career. As such, the public will be divided, even though being a quarterback doesn’t and shouldn’t mean you receive special treatment.
Some will take Kinsman’s side, but others will say that Winston is an up-and-coming star. He has a bright future. Why would Kinsman pick this moment to come forward? Surely she should have said something earlier, like back when it happened! That’s why we have campus officials and university police to handle these matters. She’s just jealous, she wants his money, we need to remember that Winston’s life could be ruined by this…and the list goes on. Athletes matter too much to colleges and must be treated as treasures.
Again, though, where does responsibility lay? Florida State University? The football’s head coach? Winston for not asking for consent first? Kinsman for going with a guy she didn’t know? Or should bartenders be held liable for not making sure all of their patrons are kept safe, even though that would be impossible? What option is there when few will take your side and your voice can’t be heard?
This is why I like how Pino and Clark’s ongoing activism is played against the statistics and stories that we hear from victims. While we learn about this growing trend, we see these two victims, nay, survivors, researching Title IX, listening to other stories from men and women reliving their trauma, and connecting the dots in what they see as a nationwide epidemic.
It brings the documentary full circle by ending on a somewhat optimistic note with universities being investigated for sexual assaults. I’m for and against this conclusion, though. The film has spent the entire time telling me this. By the time you reach the end, you get the point that you should give a listening ear to potential victims and speak out about this. Having an advisory notice on that at the end feels redundant when, I think, the audience can figure that out for themselves. That’s the sort of thing you save for a PSA which, to be fair, this documentary is.
Campus rape is still a big issue. What should be straightforward solutions to tackling this growing problem on college campuses are made challenging through victim-blaming, shaming, going through hoops and hurdles to protect the accused and the institution, victims themselves not coming forward due to fear of reprisal or ridicule from all angles. However, all you need is a voice to get the conversation started.
We as people are naturally skeptical of something that sounds outrageous or fantastic. Does that mean it might not be true? Possibly, but I doubt that means we need to turn a blind eye all the time. Again, campus rape and sexual assault in general is not my area of expertise. Chances are most of what I’ve blurted out is stuff that you may know in better worded detail. I still contend that accountability must be held on the individual, as in the one who committed the act.
We raise people to superstar status because of their seemingly incredible gifts and talents, but they’re humans that can come crashing down to Earth at any time. They don’t deserve special treatment. We are not gods, but men…and women. If women like Pino and Clark can have their stories told, so can others. Sometimes you need to dramatic examples to shake up the establishment and get people out of apathy. Worked for Bruce Wayne, it can work for anyone.
I’ll be honest, The Hunting Ground left me feeling hollow when it ended. That’s not say it’s bad. Not by any means, but it made me question the institutions we attend for years at a time and whether our priorities line up with theirs. In the case of rape victims, that’s not always the case. I’m not trying to convince you all of anything. I’m merely giving my opinion on the documentary and what little opinion I have on the subject matter.
I can say that this film is going to be uncomfortable for some to watch. Hell, when watching this in the cinema, there was a young, college-aged woman who kept crying from after the halfway point to near the end. Without doing any research on my own, I doubt you can get that kind of reaction from just any documentary, but it’s going to touch people in a certain way. Phrasing.
That said, I very much recommend The Hunting Ground.