'The Hunting Ground' attempts to offer college women silenced over sexual assault a voice. Included in the survivor narrative is Jameis Winston's accuser, Erica Kinsman, who fights against the university's need to protect sponsorship over the one in five women assaulted on campus.
The Hunting Ground is looking to level the playing field on college campus officials ignoring rape allegation in favor of not disturbing ratings and athletic grants. And 2015’s Sundance Film Festival has handed a spotlight to those demanding more attention and reaction from administrators promising to keep them safe.
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The New York Times gives a glimpse into the Friday viewing of The Hunting Ground and panel afterwards. And a lot of information seems to be coming out as more women openly discuss the silence and victim blaming by administrators after attempting to report a sexual assault.
Kirby Dick and producing partner Amy Ziering are known for creating documentaries that hold a microscope up to sections of life that are often ignored. The pair produced The Invisible War, which focused on rape in the United States military. In 2013, the pieces was up for best documentary for an Academy Award. So it’s no surprise that The Hunting Ground offered a voice to the unheard.
Entertainment Weekly says Sundance senior programmer Caroline Libresco felt the film does a very good job of “connecting all the dots where the news is just shards of information” and letting the audience “understand the full picture.” The Hunting Ground does not skimp on providing facts of sexual assault on college campuses, either: 88 percent of women do not report the crime, and only 26 percent of reported assaults end up in conviction.
Survivor Annie Clark remembers a college administrator comparing rape to a football game. “If you look back on the game, what would you have done differently?” The amount of victim-blaming is staggering for many people unaware of the unreported dangers of a college campus.
While the education systems seems to want to ignore the rampant epidemic of assaults on campus, women have been clamoring to be heard for years. In the mid-1990s, Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley University series dealt with the topic of rape on campus when Jessica Wakefield was assaulted. So the news should not be sudden to those working in the higher levels of academia.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, promised to hold a meeting with the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as soon as possible. Some women may find the response to be a bit pacifying since rape on college campuses have been silenced for decades.
But Boxer will be joined by New York Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, another Democrat, in backing a bill meant to prevent the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.
According to Gillibrand's site, the Campus Accountability & Safety Act (CASA) has bipartisan support, including Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Both Boxer and Gillibrand want CASA to “establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors" by forcing "new historic transparency requirements" on student surveys that will penalize any campus that doesn't comply with Title IX and the Clery Act.
Previously this year, a story in Rolling Stone circulated about a rape on a college campus and many people called foul on the accusations, proof, and reporting. The publication even retracted the story's veracity. But not everyone is dismissive of the entire story while advocates of campus assault worried about the others attempting to report violence. And Mr. Dick points out that the Department of Education is in fact investigating 90 colleges for treatment of sexual assault complaints.
Yet The Hunting Ground is looking to bring public shaming to those campuses unwilling to investigate sexual assault claims and implement a change in accepting rape culture. The film names campuses and accused, including 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, while offering the chance for those accused to make a public statement.
In 2012, Winston was accused by Erica Kinsman but cleared of violating Florida State University’s student code of conduct and never charged by police. Expected to draft high in the N.F.L., the documentary has the ability to put a spotlight on the allegations and investigation by the school.
This is the first time that Kinsman has openly discussed her side of the alleged assault after being forced out of university, thanks to death threats and personal confrontations. Giving honest details, she recounts a tale of being roofied, kidnapped, and then assaulted.
As for the presidents of the six universities named in the film, not a one responded to putting an institution’s point of view and/or defense on film. While saying that “all of them passed or did not respond at all,” Mr. Dick also added that calling an additional 35 schools resulted in the similar “no response or they passed on the interview.”
Harvard’s Drew Gilpin Faust seems to be avoiding phone calls after proclaiming to the Washington Post in December that the campus would be establishing a central office solely for complaint investigations. Both the law school and college are involved in the federal investigation by the Department of Education.
“I think the discussion of the past year has shone a light on the level of concern and the widespread nature of these issues.” She also believes Harvard is doing everything possible to create a better environment. “
“I think we’ve responded and been very committed to making sure that our campus is a safe place and that everybody on our campus feels able to take full advantage of the opportunities on the campus without fear of physical harm.”
When questioned about Washington’s role in sexual violence issues, Faust was honest but reserved. “The federal government’s spotlight on this has certainly intensified all of our attention to the issue in ways that are important for the concerns and safety of our students.”
CNN is set to air the documentary by the end of the year. After showing the documentary Blackfish, which has been linked to declining SeaWorld profits, the network has proven the ability to reach a wider audience. And executives are not afraid to side with controversial topics.
The Times notes that Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, dismissed the possibility of aggressive commentary by higher education officials. “They’re on the wrong side.”
Zucker added, "We're not afraid." Meanwhile, Senator Boxer added, “Believe me, there will be fallout.” But the question is will anything change for the number of rape victims on campus, and will anyone listen to their pleas to be heard when the glittery lights fade away?
Radius-TWC, a division of The Weinstein Company, will be releasing The Hunting Ground in theaters on March 20.
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