Kirby Dick (dir) (2015) The Hunting Ground, RADiUS-TWC

By Harriet Gray

The Hunting Ground documentary came out in 2015, so I am a little behind the times on this one. I had been aware of it for a while, and I finally got around to watching it because it was so obviously relevant to one of the six memorials that form the central focus of this study – the Contemplative Garden on Stanford Campus, which marks the site where Brock Turner assaulted Chanel Miller in 2015.

The film follows the experiences of two phenomenal young women: Andrea Pino and Annie Clark. Pino and Clark were both sexually assaulted when they were students at the University of North Carolina; along with more than 60% of their fellow college women in the US, as the film informs us. Unlike 88% of college women who are sexual assaulted, however, Pino and Clark both attempted to report what had happened to them to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where they studied, and were bitterly disappointed with the lack of support they received and the lack of consequences for the perpetrators. Pino and Clark found support in one another, and tried to change UNC. They conducted months of research on sexual harassment law and on rape statues, and then they came across Title IX. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits educational programs from discriminating on the basis of sex. In failing to respond appropriately to sexual assault, the women argued, their schools were failing to provide an equal learning environment for women and men. Not content with just filing a complaint against UNC, Pino and Clark begin a movement. They got a front page story in the New York Times, and became inundated with other survivors of campus rape getting in touch to share their stories. So, a movement began. Pino and Clark started a national network. They made a map, sticking little red dots all over the USA to show how widespread this epidemic is. They travelled the country, sleeping on dorm room floors and in their car, helping other students to file Title IX complaints. Pino and Clark are just two of the multiple victim-survivors of campus sexual assault – mostly women, but also a few men – who tell their stories in the documentary. The sense is that rape across college campuses is massively widespread, hugely covered up, and devastating for many students.

Watching this film now, in what is allegedly the ‘post #MeToo’ era, you would hope that things have changed. The victim-blaming narratives experienced by students who report to their University’s administration are astounding. They are asked what they were wearing, what they had been drinking, whether they were sure they had said no, how many times and in what tone of voice, had they misled the boy with friendship, did they fight – “what would you have done differently if you could replay the situation again?” It is like a bad caricature. It is an incredible display of institutional betrayal.

It is in the interest of colleges, the film suggests, to silence rape on campus. This is because they are selling a brand. They need students to want to come, and they need their parents to want to send them; being known as a place where rape is common does not help this cause. Students are discouraged from reporting to the police, because assaults that are reported to the police are likely to get into official statistics. This, the college does not want. Moreover, the film suggests, sexual violence perpetrated by fraternity members or college athletes is particularly covered up. This is because fraternities and their alumni donate eye-watering amounts of money; and because college athletics is a massive big deal in the US. Perpetrators who are disciplined, in addition, are more likely to sue their colleges than survivors who do not receive protection and justice. Entitled young men, marinating in cultures of hypersexualised misogyny, are made invulnerable. The result is that repeat offenders are allowed to remain on campus and to assault their classmates again, and again, and again: repeat offenders, we are told, commit an average of 6 of more acts of sexual assault.

The Hunting Ground makes a clear statement on what institutions can do – what they are currently failing to do – about sexual violence. It shines a spotlight on the problem of victim-blaming, and the ways in which universities across the US create an environment in which perpetrators can act with impunity. This moves the problem from an individual one predicated on personal circumstances and actions to a systemic one, enabled by uncaring organisations that normalise rape through their (lack of) actions.

The activism in the film, led by Pino and Clark and taken up by many others, is breath-taking. It is easy to see the work of these students and the campus sexual assault movement that they began as a pre-curser to the #MeToo movement. How much has changed since this film was made? Do colleges across the US respond differently to sexual assault today? I don’t know. I know that other institutions in other places – the British police, and the British military, for example – continue to fail rape victims, and to fail them badly. I also know that the fightback continues. And it will not stop.


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