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How "Hunting Ground" Blows Lid off U.S. Campus Rape

If you are going to any college in America, you need to see the explosive documentary about the sexual assault of young women and men, too at college campuses from Harvard, Princeton to UC Berkeley.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   11-12-2015

If you've studied and toughed it out in a male chauvinist city like Delhi often  called "the rape capital of the world" you might be lulled into dropping your guard when you arrive in a salubrious American campus. But pay attention to this fact: a White House task force report asserted that “one in five women is sexually assaulted in college” in America.

Similarly, 7 percent of young men say they suffered unwanted sexual incidents in college, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Currently, about 90 U.S. colleges are being investigated by the federal government for mishandling or covering up rape cases.

Now the explosive documentary "The Hunting Ground," which was aired recently by co-producer CNN,  tells some horrific stories about sexual assaults on U.S. campuses. And in doing so, defines the problem of campus rape for policymakers, college administrators, students, and their parents.

Serial Predators
The film has two major themes. One, stated by filmmakers Amy Ziering and Dick Kirby, is that campus sexual assaults are not “just a date gone bad, or a bad hook-up, or, miscommunication.” Instead, the filmmakers argue, campus rape is “a highly calculated, premeditated crime,” one typically committed by hardcore predators.

The second theme is that even when college officials are informed of harm done to female students, schools typically do nothing in response. Cases reported to campus law enforcement are not investigated seriously and administrators who are mandated to protect the school's reputation go into overdrive to cover up. Alleged rapists typically go unpunished, especially when they are star athletes.

Entitled Athletes
The film touches on the high-profile Erica Kinsman case, where a bookish, pre-med student at Florida State University accused star Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, a Heisman trophy winner of drugging her and brutal rape. While pressing charges, Kinsman received so many death threats from Florida State University football fans that she had to change college. Despite DNA evidence, police delayed and botched up the investigation so thoroughly that the judge had to let the footballer go. A victim advocate at Florida State University claims another woman had also come forward after an encounter with the footballer.

Two former star football players at Vanderbilt University Branden Vandenberg and Cory Batey were convicted this year of raping, sodomizing and assaulting an unconscious woman in a dorm room. Jurors took less than three hours to reach a guilty verdict.

According to the film, less than 4 percent of people on campus are student athletes, yet they commit 19 percent of campus sexual assaults. A report compiled by United Educators, which offers liability insurance to schools, says student-on-student sexual assault represents the third-costliest category of claims. The report points to a "culture that promotes hyper-masculinity, sexual aggression and excessive alcohol consumption" among college athletes.

A dad in the film bravely opens up about his daughter being sexually assaulted at Notre Dame — and then committing suicide after Notre Dame refused to take real action. The documentary even shows professors being fired or denied tenure after they tell the administration that something needs to be done for the survivors.

"Rape is like a football game," a UNC administrator told one stunned survivor. "If you look back on the game, what would you do differently? What were you wearing? Were you drinking? How much did you pregame? Did you say no? How many times did you say no?"

Just as weirdly, a girl at Yale was told that the written admission of guilt she had procured from her rapist only proved that he "loved her."

Fraternity Rape Culture
Be warned about the "bad" fraternities: the ones that spike the punch at parties with Everclear and drugs, where girls get hurt. As expected, a lot of the sexual assaults highlighted in the film shared the same setting — boisterous frat parties. Several interviewees in the film pointed to one fraternity in particular — Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which they say is known on many campuses as “Sexual Assault Expected.”

Controversy and Criticism
“The Hunting Ground” which got a standing ovation at Sundance and applause on the festival circuit has been a PR nightmare for American colleges. Not surprisingly, it has attracted heated controversy.

Nineteen Harvard Law School professors released a statement defending one of their students, who was accused of sexual assault in the film. The Harvard case features Kamilah Willingham, a law school grad, who tells the filmmakers that she and a friend were sexually assaulted by fellow law student Brandon Winston. Willingham says Harvard initially found the student guilty and expelled him. After an appeal, professors allowed him to return to Harvard.

THE HUNTING GROUND - Official Trailer

“There was never any evidence that Mr. Winston used force, nor were there even any charges that he used force,” the faculty wrote. “No evidence whatsoever was introduced at trial that he was the one responsible for the inebriated state of the women who are portrayed in the film as his victims. Nor was anybody vested with final decision-making authority persuaded that Mr. Winston was guilty of any sexual assault offense at all. Mr. Winston was finally vindicated by the law school and by the judicial proceedings, and allowed to continue his career at the law school and beyond.”

The government found Harvard Law School in violation of Title IX gender equity law last December, which the film says is proof that the college was negligent in its handling of Willingham’s case.

Creating Empathy
At its best, the documentary creates empathy for sexual assault survivors. The song Lady Gaga composed for the film, "Till It Happens to You," reminds viewers they can't know how sexual violence will scar them unless it has happened to them. In the aftermath of their assaults, young women from schools like Berkeley, Harvard, and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill describe classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including nightmares, panic attacks, self-harm, and suicide attempts.

The film has been screened at the White House, and submitted for consideration for a feature documentary Academy Award.

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and a writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.


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