The Hunting Ground is a film that will shake you to your core and rip away blissful ignorance. The 1 hour and 43 minute documentary brings sexual assault on campus to the front and center, and forces you to confront these unsettling realities.
More than 60% of college women are sexually assaulted in college. 88% of them do not report it.
The reason why? Nearly all of the named universities mentioned (and many not mentioned) are under federal investigation over their handling of several sexual assault complaints. Many of the institutions were found to be in violation of Title XI, a system enacted in 1972 that was designed for gender equality in the following facets of education: access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, and standardized testing and technology. We learn that many universities fail to punish the rapists, and protect them instead.
So if women can’t count on their universities and local law enforcement to protect them, then who can they count on? The sad reality is that they often have to count on each other (for moral support) and themselves to seek the justice that they may never receive.
The Hunting Ground introduces the viewer to two heroic women, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark. When the law and their respective universities refused to give them justice, they banded together and fought on behalf of themselves and fellow sexual assault survivors.
The film also covers the inspiring story of how women banded together to start The Courage Project. The Courage Project is a photo gallery among all who have supported the healing of victims of sexual assault, witnessed sexual assault or survived sexual assault. With each photo, there is a story. You can read the stories or share your own on The Courage Project website.
It was an honor to learn the names and faces of these brave women, and to see all of the work they are doing—for one of us, for all of us. They are heroes.
Another facet of the epidemic of sexual assault on campus is the dismal arrest and conviction rate.
26% of reported sexual assaults lead to an arrest of the perpetrator, and even less, 20% are prosecuted for their crime.
Punishments range from a $25 fine, writing a letter of reflection, 50 hours of community service, a one-day or one-semester suspension, or expulsion… upon graduation.
Among many of the many heartbreaking stories is that of Lizzy Seeberg, a young woman who was excited to attend the all female college St. Mary’s after generations of her family attended Notre Dame and St. Mary. Lizzy was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player one night while in the company of her friend and a friend of the perpetrator. The rapist’s friend texted Lizzy and asked her what she planned to do about everything. “Don’t do anything you would regret,” he warned her. “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.” Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide ten days after being sexually assaulted. She was 19 years old.
While women are the primary targets of sexual and gender violence, men are also sexually assaulted on campus. 20-year-old Amherst College student Trey Malone committed suicide after the school failed to respond to his sexual assault report. In fact, his case was never reported to the investigators for the Northwestern District Attorney’s office. With permission from his family, Trey’s suicide note was published. In the note, he laments the society we live in that “remains unwilling to address sexual assault and rape.”
The Hunting Ground also exposes problematic fraternity culture in which young men engage across the nation. One fraternity mentioned in is SAE, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, known to students as “Sexual Assault Expected.” It’s chilling to see female students speak those three words so casually, as if sexual assault is just a part of every college student’s experience. As if it’s meant to be expected, and therefore, ignored.
In December of 2012, FSU student Erica Kinsman was raped by football all-star Jameis Winston. Another woman reported being raped by Winston. The detective assigned to the case graduated from Florida State University, and was also part of a group that fundraises for FSU athletics. The documentary tells us there was surveillance video footage, that it was possible to locate the cab driver who drove Jameis and Erica the night of the incident, and that a DNA swab of the perpetrator could have been taken. All three courses of action that could have brought justice to Erica were all denied. The attorney (also a FSU graduate) declined to press charges. Erica Kinsman dropped out of Florida State University. A woman’s education was compromised because these institutions of higher learning continuously fail to hold responsible the perpetrators of these crimes.
We also learn how speaking on behalf of sexual assault survivors has affected the careers of faculty. In 2010, Harvard appointed Kimberly Theidon as a Loeb Fellow (an honor awarded to the most distinguished tenure track faculty). In 2014, she was denied tenure at Harvard after she advocated on the behalf of survivors of sexual assault on campus. In 2013, Professor Heather Turcotte was terminated after speaking out against sexual assault on campus at University of Connecticut. She received the Early Career Teaching Excellence Award the same day of her dismissal.
The Hunting Ground features the song “Til It Happens To You” by Lady Gaga, a song written for the film.
The Hunting Ground is available for streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here.Join the Movement and Help Women Today
Ashley Hesse is a 20-something writer/musician and women’s rights activist. She is a former beauty/special FX makeup artist who put down the makeup brushes and raised her fist in solidarity to help fight the social injustices against women all over the world. When she’s not crusading for social justice and defeating bigotry in all its forms, she also enjoys feeding her soul with musical theatre, red lipstick and Ghirardelli brownies.