Film tackles tough topic of sexual assault

By Alexis Schulz

The Hunting Ground, a film uncovering the crisis of rape and sexual assault on college campuses, takes a stab at institution policies and administrations that care more about reputation than the safety of students.

The film, screened at Rutgers on March 13, offers an unfettered glimpse at the impact sexual assault has on victims, with first person accounts of real-life crimes. The stories of survivors, filled with dejection and fury, make this film a must-see for all college students. It offers a passionate contrast between underground sexual assault activism and sheer injustice within higher education.

Producer Amy Ziering and writer-director Kirby Dick expose in-depth narratives of sexual violence from universities such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Florida State University. These universities were among the 55 named institutions in a report released by the White House in May of 2014, which were under investigation for inappropriate handling of sexual assault allegations. The tales students give of the crimes perpetrated at these institutions provide a chilling, painful and eerie look into the heart of college counterculture.

The film opens with a number of home videos of young women eagerly opening college acceptance letters. The scenes fade away with new images of students dressed in caps and gowns while a male voice, one of a college president or administrator, booms out.

“As you learned when your parents dropped you off today,” he says. “What happens in college stays in college — most of the time.”

The story flows into a menagerie of victim testimony backed with powerful graphic narratives. Among the students are Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino. The two became friends, and, eventually, partners in activism, after Pino was raped at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and reached out to Clark, who had also been raped there. The two came together and presented the institution with a Title IX violation backed by the Department of Education.

The two women embody a theme of female empowerment as they speak openly about their encounters at the university. With misty eyes and chilling stories, they spoke of the tragic injustice served to them from campus law enforcement and administrators.

A woman who spoke of her story from Florida State University regarding Jameis Winston, a football quarterback who allegedly raped her off campus, was one of the most profound narratives throughout the film. Producers tried to showcase in this instance the media’s view of sexual assault through an ESPN talk show clip. ESPN announcers stated that the woman accusing Winston of rape was doing so out of spite for him winning the Heisman trophy.

Gasps and sheer disdain sounded across the audience and whispers ran rampant after the ESPN hosts stated their opinions on the case. The producers of the film created this shocking portrayal to evoke passion and anger from the audience members. The twists and turns within the administration and law enforcement officers demonstrate the corruption of Florida State University.

Producer Ziering was present at the screening of the film at Rutgers University. She said the film had a drastic impact on her entire crew.

“One of our film editors developed PTSD from watching the clips over and over again,” she said. “She was embarrassed; she couldn’t sleep and kept crying. It really impacted her.”

The film brilliantly examines the factors of sexual assault and how it impacts the lives of victims. It demonstrates how victims are treated in higher education and skillfully challenges the audience to ignore previous presumptions, persuading them to think of sexual assault as a dreadful crime. The film, both figuratively and literally, shows the injustices of higher education and brings about a colorful conversation about injustice versus student advocacy.

printed in the 3/25/15 edition 

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