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The Hunting Ground: Film Analysis

1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college (The Hunting Ground Film) and this statistic is being shown in the limelight of American legal culture with increasing cases year by year. Director and writer Kirby Dick, created The Hunting Ground to reveal the reality of administrative responses to sexual assaults reported to college campuses and being covered up or otherwise handled at the victim’s expense. Following undergraduate rape survivors, The Hunting Ground scrutinizes elite Ivies, state universities, and small colleges, by revealing the endemic system of institutional cover-ups, rationalizations, victim-blaming, and denial that creates perfect storm conditions for predators to prey with immunity. Andrea Pino and Annie Clark are the primary survivors followed throughout the film and commended for their efforts to raise awareness to the issues at hand as well as assist other survivors from various campuses with ways to challenge their cases through Title IX efforts. The legal strategies and routes victims are forced to endure in order to report their cases or bring attention to their cases are challenging in addition to the emotional and physical trauma already endured.

The large, national The Washington Post-Kaiser Poll (2015) found that 20% of young women who attended college during the past four years were sexually assaulted. Similarly, a study commissioned by the Association of American Universities (2015) surveyed 150,000 students at 27 colleges and universities across the country and found that 27.2% of female college seniors reported they had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact since entering college. This sort of jarring evidence is shared throughout the duration of the documentary providing specific statics as well as anecdotes of a handful of survivors and their families explaining their experiences interacting with administrative positions on college campuses about the assaults. As noted by the film production, the filmmakers reached out to the universities and colleges mentioned in the film and while two university presidents were interviewed, thirty-five college or university presidents declined to speak or did not respond. Only a fraction of these crimes are reported, as noted by several of the survivors interviewed, and even fewer result in punishment for the perpetrators.

Choosing this film was an easy decision for us because sexual assault is a growing issue and as college freshman we had recently been exposed to several AU programs raising awareness to sexual assault and how to handle those cases on our campus. Additionally, the relation to American legal culture is tremendous due to the several forms of “law” this can be considered under. Lawrence M. Friedman, author of “American Law: An Introduction” defines law for our class as a set of rules and can fall under four potential categories: private formal, private informal, public formal, or public informal. In the instance of sexual assault on college campuses, these cases are typically considered under the private formal laws due to the processes under which they are supposed to abide by, however, are not typically under the justice system per se. Sexual assault has been generally considered as hush-hush aspects of college campuses with administrators putting the burden of proof on the victims of most cases and even if the victims comply, sentencing the perpetrator extremely minor “consequences” in comparison to the crime committed. A known example can be seen in the Brock Turner case at Stanford University that could have been pushed under the rug if handled by the university itself, however, was brought to public attention by the media like wildfire across the nation. Lightly sentenced by the justice system, Brock Turner is an example of how sexual assault is taken lightly within our nation as well as how elite universities or privileged individuals can and have managed to manipulate the system in their favor.

The Hunting Ground walks the viewer through the process of filing a sexual assault case to campus authorities or administration, highlighting Harvard and Florida State University (FSU) as key examples. However even if the university takes the victim’s word for the assault, the perpetrator is usually penalized minimally and never really results in anything tangible. For example, survivors noted their molesters as merely being suspended for a few days to a week or possibly “benched” from their sport team events. Regardless, the film also accentuates that the primary issue of college campuses is the lack of reporting their sexual assault crimes. In 2012, 45% of college campuses reported zero sexual assaults. Survivors were quoted as saying administrators from their universities specifically warned them from filing reports, persuading them not to and even threatening the victims if they came forward with their stories. However, the issue far exceeds the statistic of women being the primary victims of sexual assault; 6% of men as undergraduates are also sexually assaulted across the nation. Christopher P. Krebs’ study on sexual assault on college campuses claims that “a multitude of national and individual school studies over the past fifteen years have come to the universal conclusion that approximately 20% of female students will be sexually assaulted during their time at college”, yet only 13% of rape survivors report assault (Nat’l. Criminal Justice Reference Service, Oct. 2007).

The private formal scenario allows for sexual assaults to go under the radar of the general public’s knowledge and permits perpetrator’s to continue their activities and universities to keep their rape numbers low when statistically attempting to appeal to prospective students and parents. College tuition rates are rising and rising with each coming year and in order for universities and colleges to maintain their application and admission numbers desirable, they underplay the facts that sexual assault occurs on their campuses. As an interviewee noted, college campuses do not want to broadcast to families that their daughters have a 20% chance of being raped on their campus. Yet the most recent years have been steps toward change on several college campuses in terms of how they handle sexual assault cases. The biggest alterations can be seen due to advocacy groups such as ItsOnUs, which is a national NGO for fighting sexual assault and rape. Programs such as these can be found on our campus at American University that has done a tremendous job with presenting tips and information handling sexual assault even on our campus through programs of AUKnowsConsent and Oasis as well as a handful of other universities have also adopting similar programs for their campuses.

The famous Brock Turner or “Stanford Rapist” case has also greatly influenced today’s society with addressing rape culture, media coverage of sexual assault, the ways in which universities handle rape cases, as well as legislation in the state of California itself. Governor Jerry Brown of California signed two bills into law inspired by Brock Turner’s rape case expanding its definition of rape and adding new mandatory-minimum sentences for sexual assaults after a judge’s lenient sentence sparking national outrage (Assembly Bills 701 and 2888). The news coverage surrounding Turner’s case was frequent and acutely aware of the perpetrator’s privilege and university status influencing the justice system against abundance amounts of proof that held him guilty. However, in political context, rape is a difficult line for the legal system to walk around due to the controversies of rape culture and other issues surrounding the definition and interpretation of “rape” within the nation itself. After the release of The Hunting Ground, the state of New York followed California’s suit by changing legislation revolving around rape cases and minimums for perpetrators. The application of such change has yet to be seen by the public eye, however, is heading toward the direction of change.

The primary result from The Hunting Ground can be seen in a need to alter the ways in which sexual assault are not only handled by universities and colleges but also in terms of a national level. Although private formal laws of handling sexual assault may be seen as a benefit for the school in order to address their issues on their own, it is shown through the film that in most instances it can result in little to no outcome on behalf of the victim. Similarly, the awareness of sexual assault needs to be a focal point of universities, the media, the justice system, and the general public due to the epidemic that has been spreading over the past couple of decades. In order to spread the awareness of sexual assault cases, advocacy groups should be greatly accentuated around college campuses particularly in order to aid in assisting the survivor with coping mechanisms. In watching the movie multiple times a big question for the producers include what they believe is the best way for those on campuses and around the country can do to support survivors. This epidemic of rape needs to be stopped. We both feel very strongly that more people need to watch this film and advocate for the survivors of these horrific attacks.

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