The following are blog posts I wrote for my internship at REACT to FILM, an educational non-profit that exposes students to social issues through documentary films.
The Hunting Ground
It is estimated that approximately 1 in 5 women will experience sexual violence in college, according to Al Jazeera. Have we got your attention yet? This fall REACT to FILM is hosting screenings of The Hunting Ground, which exposes the rampant number of sexual assault cases both reported and unreported on campuses like Harvard and the University of North Carolina; and how the crimes are often covered up to protect the reputation of the school, especially when a prominent student athlete is involved.
With staggering statistics shown throughout the film, it becomes more and more apparent that this isn’t a problem to be swept under the rug, but rather an epidemic. The film closely examines the emotional struggles for the survivors and their loved ones that ensue after an assault occurs. By hearing the stories of each survivor, the audience not only is forced to empathize on a human level, but also is compelled to ask, “How does this keep happening?”
When deciding between colleges and considering sexual assault statistics, logically it would make more sense to choose the school with lower rates. However, the campus with the higher rates might actually have more support – but is not safer. If a college has higher rates this means that the administration is encouraging students to report incidents. When a campus has low rates it could either mean that there are truly few incidents, or it could mean that they go unreported for various reasons. Unfortunately, the statistics regarding campus sexual assault leave a lot to be desired in terms of factual truths.
One reason why students do not report sexual assault could be the misconception of the definition of rape. Many people believe that rape is only when a person violently attacks another. Often times that is the case, but there are many situations where rape can happen. A common misconception is that because the victim didn’t say no, it means it wasn’t rape. Many women and men have been raped because they didn’t feel they had the right to say no. Other times, drinking or drug use might be a reason why a victim might not want to report. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol allows for uninhibited behavior, which often times are regrettable. The lines of consent are blurred and leaves room for a lot of questioning of whether or not what happened was wrong or just a mistake.
Although each case is unique, TIME found some similar occurrences when speaking to experts about why a survivor would choose not to report. Sadly, 42% of students in a survey said their case went unreported because they were embarrassed of others knowing. This is commonly seen with smaller or mid-sized schools because the attacker could be in their social circle and they don’t want to receive any social backlash. Along with this reason, students also said they didn’t report it because they didn’t think they would be taken seriously. For these reasons it is critical to spread education on this topic and provide students with resources.
Some survivors do not want to report their attack at all, but some go to their school’s administration seeking help and get turned away. The latter happened to a Yale law school student Alexandra Brodsky. “When I reported violence to my school, I was told not to go to police. But I never would have told [the school] if I knew I was going to be forced into that option.” Discouraging students to report is unfortunately becoming the norm, and colleges are doing things such as invalidating, shaming and punishing the victim to keep them quiet. This covering up technique used by schools is called “institutional betrayal” and can contribute to the survivor’s post-traumatic distress. “We found that students who were sexually assaulted and also experienced institutional betrayal on average showed higher rates of sexual abuse trauma, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and dissociation” (Al Jazeera).
The Hunting Ground goes into some detail about a case involving Jameis Winston, Florida State University’s former quarterback (and now part of the NFL). Erica Kinsman spoke out about her attack and how there was an attempt to silence her. She received a couple comments like she should think twice before filing a report because of who Winston was (implying it would be harmful to the football team). “The Tallahassee police did nothing for 10 months, and when they did, her claims were greeted with disbelief that ranged from general skepticism to caustic threats” (Washington Post). Kinsman talked about the double standard involved – how she was being called a slut while he was being praised.
The film stated that less than 4 percent of students are athletes, but athletes are responsible for 19 percent of sexual assaults on campus. Why are schools seemingly making it easier for them to get away with assaults and stray away from punishing them? The perpetrator knows they have the ability to get away with certain things, providing a sense of immortality and lack of moral empathy. As educational institutions cover up these cases, they essentially are encouraging these violent acts.
It is important for the truth to surface so that schools will be less likely to hide future assaults because they would face scrutiny from the public and the press. This involves collecting data on sexual assault rates and making them publicly known. All officials, including police and college administrators, need to work together collaboratively in the best interest of the survivor, not the perpetrator or the school’s reputation. Students also need to be aware of their Title IX rights and have resources available for them to feel safe on campus.
Survivors are speaking out now more than ever. There have been many protests by college students like Emma Sulkowicz who is known for carrying her mattress around Columbia University to represent the baggage she still carries after her attack. The more survivors that surface, the more comfortable others are going to be to come forward and tell their stories. Students are making a huge stride in their efforts to speak out about their rights. Now, certain campus administrations just need to catch up, and we will be on our way to a culture where this is no longer acceptable.
WAYS YOU CAN REACT to The Hunting Ground
1. REACT on social media using the hashtag #EndCampusRape.
2. DONATE toward public education, policy reform, and prevention approaches through The Hunting Ground’s website.
3. VISIT Know Your IX to evaluate your school’s policies, and learn how to build a movement towards changing them.
4. LEARN how to File a Federal Complaint via End Campus Rape.
5. SUPPORT a survivor of sexual assault and rape.