Ah, yes, the campus rape movie that none of us wants to see. Credit the excellent muckracking documentarian Kirby Dick for pursuing such difficult topics. In 2012’s The Invisible War, he and producer Amy Ziering addressed sexual assault in the military; now their attention turns to the academic institution, which operates by its own inflexible set of rules (many of them unwritten). Will you be surprised to learn that fundraising and sports teams count for more than young women’s safety?
Despite the relatively mild rating (CNN has the broadcast rights), this is not an easy sit. The Hunting Ground walks us through a variety of campus crimes—none at the UW or state colleges, I’ll tell you now—as described by their candid victims. All are named, as are a very few suspects and perpetrators, the most prominent being Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston of Florida State. A few collegiate men also describe their assaults, but the pattern here is overwhelmingly male on female, and it works like this: 1) Ask a freshman girl to a party and get her drunk; 2) isolate her from friends; 3) rape or sodomize her; 4) act like nothing happened; 5) repeat.
This would all be too terribly depressing if Dick and Ziering didn’t structure their movie around two brave young women, North Carolina’s Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, who after being raped founded EROC, or End Rape on Campus. (It uses the federal Title IX law, originally intended to equally fund women’s sports teams on campus, to sue for inadequate and unequal protection of female students from sexual assault.) And though their troubling yet inspiring stories are part of a larger chorus of victims, The Hunting Ground is well and widely sourced and reported. Damning statistics abound, with footnotes: 16–20 percent of women on campus experience sexual assault; 88 percent of such assaults go unreported; of those 12 percent reported, only 25 percent result in arrests; of those arrested, 20 percent go to trial.
Why are the stats so stacked against women? Universities don’t want to alienate donors by expelling their sons or passing complaints to the cops. “It’s a deeply powerful industry,” says The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan. Another source adds,“Universities are protecting their brand. They’re selling a product.” And finally, says an ex-UNC administrator, the school’s goal is to “keep your numbers low.”
Even so, The Hunting Ground manages to summon some hope for change (cue the Lady Gaga ballad). To date, the EROC has helped students file 24 Title IX complaints, while 95 schools are under current federal investigation. It’s not the numbers here you’ll remember, of course, but the stories. A montage of students relating how they called their parents, post-rape, is the saddest thing you’ll see on screen this year.
THE HUNTING GROUND Runs Fri., April 17–Thurs., April 23 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.