Two Women Make It Their Mission To Bring Rape Awareness To College Campuses In The Hunting Ground.

The Hunting Ground.
Director: Kirby Dick.
Writers: Kirby Dick.
Opens at: The Magnolia.

For many young adults, college can be the most important and influential time of their lives. Lifelong friendships are made, a career path is chosen, and valuable life skills are learned for use in the “real world”.

The documentary The Hunting Ground starts off by touching on all of the above idealism that graduation from high school brings: We see a montage of seniors finding out that they're accepted to their dream schools all over the United States; there are cheers, tears and plenty of hugs.

But if you begin watching this film while knowing the subject matter, there's a looming sense of dread over what should be an exciting beginning to these students' lives.

Through countless interviews, the film attempts with some success to tackle the topic of rape on college campuses, and how many schools don't take actions against the perpetrators like they should. Here, Kirby Dick and Amy Zeiring, who previously documented the rape epidemic in the armed forces with The Invisible War, try to bring awareness to the sexual assault problem on college campuses.

It does so by focusing on two individuals, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who were both raped on campus at The University of North Carolina. After minimal help from the university, these two banded together and filed a Title IX complaint against the school.

But their stories are not uncommon. As the film shows, there are countless students — both male and female, although the focus is mainly on female victims — who are sexually assaulted every school year. But when a victim reports an attack, the response they receive is quite unnerving. Instead of providing support, the victims are often blamed some for putting themselves in a situation or for drinking too much. One teacher in the film even compares a girl's rape to football: “Well, think of it like losing a football game. What could you have done differently during the game? What aspect of the game made you lose?”

Um, what? Sorry, but rape is not equatable to football… ever. And no matter what situation any person puts themselves in at a party or while drinking, rape is never OK.

The Hunting Ground does its part to express this sentiment. The films includes older footage from demonstrators in the late '70s who are protesting for safer campuses. Clearly, this problem has been happening for some time now. What's astounding, however, is the thought process that some people had — and some still have nowadays — about the issue. While interviewing a male student about students being sexually assaulted on campus and protesting, his response shocking: “So, if the two aspects were a girl saying no, but you have sex anyways, does that make you a rapist?” he asks. Um, yes. Yes, it does. C'mon, now.

Contrasting that are Andrea and Annie, who take their horrific experiences and channel them to provide support and advocate for other victims of sexual abuse all across the country. As they travel, we see how their school isn't the only one whose response to rape victims is atrocious. More than a few questions are raised in the process — like why campuses react this way and why there still isn't a better system in place for reporting and bringing necessary discipline to assailants.

What the film suggests is that it all boils down to numbers. Colleges are required to report sexual assault incidents to the government, and if no action is taken or you can bully the victim to back down, then it's very easy to keep the reported numbers down. Low numbers means a better reputation. That, in turns, means more students want to come to your school.

While most of the interviewees in the film provide random snippets of their stories, one very notable one focused on is that of Erica Kinsman, who accused Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston of sexual assault a few years ago. Winston's slated to be a top draft pick this year in the NFL. Here, Kinsman recounts the events and her reporting of them to the police, but is stunned that nothing happens for about 10 months. During that time, FSU football explodes and the police officer in charge of her case turns out to be a financier of FSU athletics. If that feels a bit like a conflict of interest to you, well, you're correct. It is.

The film itself isn't quite as cohesive as it should be, but there's strength in the cohesiveness of the victims' stories, many which pack quite a gut-punch. And, to its credit, the film highlights too some universities that are taking actions against people who have assaulted fellow students. The two football players accused of rape at Vanderbilt, for instance, were recently found guilty for raping a student two years ago. No, the process isn't perfect, but this case shows hope for victims looking to bring their attackers to justice.

Is there still a problem? Absolutely. And these universities should focus less on victim-blaming and more on making sure that guilty parties — including star athletes — face the appropriate consequences.

In the end, The Hunting Ground stands as a call-to-action for people not to be too quiet or too scared to report sexual assaults. It definitely tugs and yanks at your emotions — but, to be sure, that's the point.

The Hunting Ground won't fix the issue of sexual assault on college campuses singlehandedly, no. But getting information about this issue out there is a fine start.

Grade: B+.

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