The Hunting Ground
The Hunting Ground , documentary, rated PG-13, Center for Contemporary Arts, 4 chiles
Two sobering statistics for anyone within arm’s reach of academia or the college admissions process: 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted while in college, and 86 percent of women who are raped on campus do not report it. The prevalence of on-campus sexual assaults and higher education’s mishandling of sexual-assault claims are at the heart of The Hunting Ground, a documentary directed by Kirby Dick.
Told through a mix of interviews with rape survivors, activists, and experts, intercut with vérité moments and a wealth of supporting statistical data, The Hunting Ground easily persuades the audience that rape on campus is wide-ranging and common. The film focuses on specific cases at a few schools (Harvard, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Notre Dame among them), with a particular emphasis on the “bro” culture of fraternities and elite athletic teams, which are disproportionately associated with sexual-assault accusations.
But rape itself is only part of the problem. Equally egregious is the institutional culture that silences and shames survivors and imposes little to no consequences upon perpetrators. Many of the women interviewed say that being assaulted was terrible but that not being believed or told not to report the assault by administrators was worse. Rape allegations almost never lead to expulsions; an alleged rapist often faces no consequences at all. Late in the film, former Florida State University student Erica Kinsman, who accused quarterback Jameis Winston of rape in 2012, said that she was told by Tallahassee police officer Scott Angulo (an FSU alum and fundraiser) to think long and hard about whether she wanted to press charges against a star player. This is a common refrain: Victims are told by law enforcement and administrators alike that it is in no one’s best interest to report and prosecute an assault. (Winston is expected to be a top pick in this year’s NFL draft.)
The Hunting Ground spends a fair amount of time examining the reasons for poor administrative practices, and much of it comes down to money. College athletics are a multibillion-dollar industry, with athletic directors often commanding the highest salary on campus. Former fraternity members contribute some of the largest alumni donations. And there are admissions to consider; most colleges aim to keep their crime statistics low — even if they have to do so artificially — to attract the greatest number of applicants.
The most affecting part of the film is the testimony of the rape survivors, two of whom went on to found a nonprofit organization called End Rape on Campus. The group guides other survivors through the process of suing their schools for failing to uphold Title IX, the gender equity law. In an educational system where rape culture is normalized, this work is nothing short of radical.
Jameis Winston, Erica Kinsman, and protesters