‘The Hunting Ground:’ a poignant look at the growing problem of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses

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This Thursday I attended SMU’s screening of “The Hunting Ground,” presented by SMU’s Interfraternity Council.

I walked into the screening not knowing what to expect or the emotions I would feel.

But as I watched the film and exited the theater at its conclusion, one feeling remained: anger. I was furious at the injustice I just witnessed. For those of you who are not familiar with “The Hunting Ground,” let me explain.

Written and directed by Kirby Dick, “The Hunting Ground” takes an in-depth look at sexual assault on U.S. college campuses, the cover-ups by universities, and the impact each event had on students and their families.

The documentary uses first-person narratives, personal testimonies from survivors, words from activists, former-administrators, professors, former-police officers, and others to explain the overwhelming problem of sexual assault within every U.S. institution of higher learning.

The film opens with heartwarming, home videos of prospective students opening their acceptance letters to their choice universities. The image is a stark contrast to the remainder of the film, where female and male survivors share their stories of assault on campus and how their once-beloved universities treated them unfairly.

According to “The Hunting Ground,” 16-20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted in college with 88 percent of these assaults going unreported.

These facts and numbers continue throughout the documentary, giving the audience a tangible sense of the injustices faced by students on their campuses.

One scene in the film left the audience in shock. Individuals audibly let out voices of disbelief as they watched figures at universities confirm reports of sexual assaults and the expulsions that followed. In most cases, the number of assault cases was upwards of 180 to 200, resulting in an average of 0 to 3 expulsions. In contrast, the expulsions due to other honor code violations, like cheating, resulted in 193 students being dismissed from their respective university.

It begs the question: do universities see rape as less of an issue than cheating on a test? Are not all honor code violations supposed to be treated equally?

These kinds of questions are what sparked the film’s main voices, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, to file a Title IX complaint against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for how the school handled their own personal reports of assault on UNC’s campus.

Pino and Clark worked together to file the complaint while acting as a support system for other survivors and traveling across the country to help students file similar complaints against their own universities.

Since Pino and Clark’s initial complaint, more than 90 universities are being investigated for Title IX violations, including SMU who announced a voluntary resolution agreement on Title IX procedures with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in December 2014, as The Daily Campus reported.

The documentary also calls out university presidents for their mishandling of sexual assault cases in relation to university athletics, specifically drawing from the highly publicized case against Florida State University Quarterback Jameis Winston.

Erica Kinsman breaks her silence for the first time in this film. She tells her personal story of the events that occurred in the early morning of Dec. 7, 2012 and of the university’s and Tallahassee Police Department’s subsequent mishandling of her case.

Overall, the documentary sheds light on the hidden yet growing problem of sexual assault on college campuses, as each institution becomes a “hunting ground.” It removes the veil of secrecy and silence that typically surrounds stories of assault on campus.

“The Hunting Ground” gives these survivors a voice and a strong one at that, allowing them to act as real vessels for change.

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