Red tape, fine lines and the protection of criminals are the keys to maintaining a college’s reputation in the face of sexual assault allegations, according to a new documentary.
The Hunting Ground brings to the screen shocking victim accounts of sexual assault allegations from students of prestigious colleges. Their stories relate to university policies geared more toward maintaining the institution’s reputation than supporting victims. Is this film the answer to jump-starting sexual assault dialogue in higher education?
It comes in the wake of a turning tide in the national perception of college sexual assault fueled by the Obama administration. In May 2014, the White House Task Force released the names of 55 higher education institutions that are under investigation for possible violations over mishandling sexual assault and harassment complaints.
Among the institutions are Florida State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which are featured in the film. These two schools are depicted by contrasting student activism with sheer administrative negligence when student victims filed Title IX lawsuits.
The administrative oversight for sexual assault allegations is a main issue throughout the film. The low number of expulsions of sexual criminals from certain institutions showcases this laxity. Prestigious colleges with more than 100 sexual assault convictions had fewer than 10 expulsions, according to the film.
There is a disagreement among colleges as to suitable action in the face of bad behavior. The racial song that went viral from fraternity brothers at the University of Oklahoma is a prime example of a double standard. Why is it unacceptable, in the eyes of one administration, to sing a racially provoking song, but it is acceptable on other campuses to allow sexual criminals to walk without prosecution?
The film says that the reason is student recruitment. According to the White House, as many as one in five women will be sexually assaulted during college. If a letter were sent home to a prospective student’s family stating that one in five students could be shot, not one family would send a child to that institution. Colleges continue to sweep sexual assault allegations under the rug to protect institutional appeal.
Many institutions blame their negligence on false reporting. Administrators in the film stated that most of the reports of sexual assault that are given to campus authorities are false. The film reveals, however, that sexual assault reporting is within the same percentages as all other false reporting crime statistics. But headlines dwell more on a false sexual crime accusation than a false burglary claim.
As more allegations surface and administrators continue to turn a blind eye, The Hunting Ground depicts the harsh realties faced by sexual assault victims. Real college women who became statistics reach out to both students and administrators through factual portrayals of their stories.
One of the first colleges in the country to show this film was Rutgers University, a leader in trying to prevent sexual assault on campus.
Rider has made strides through sexual assault education programs and strict alcohol policies leading to lower crime rates than most institutions. However, hosting a screening of this film may do more to enlighten both students and administrators. Every college student should arrive on Rider’s doorstep with a feeling of security and self-awareness.
This film can help potential victims and perpetrators think twice about their behavior. As this film searches into the crevices to understand where campus authorities go wrong, it also has the potential to impact administrators. Overall, the discussion of sexual assault on Rider’s campus would be heightened and more action would be taken, on both the reporting of and prevention of sex crimes.
The film’s producer, Amy Ziering, was present at the Rutgers screening and said she hopes it will have an effect.
“I would like to see this film have a positive impact in lowering the national numbers,” she said.
While making the documentary, Ziering said, one of the most difficult things was getting administrators to talk with them about sexual assault.
“I had three conversations with presidents off the record who would not go on the record,” she said. “They would say, ‘I just don’t want any association with this issue even though personally I care about it.’”
Rider’s attempts to spark a discussion of sexual assault has not caught fire. Allowing this film to be shown on campus, with administrators present, could be a means of restarting the conversation. Rutgers is to be commended for working with the White House and New Jersey legislature on this issue. Rider should follow suit.
The Hunting Ground speaks about sexual assault when college authorities elsewhere struggle to relate this information to students. The film effectively started up the conversation on the Rutgers campus. It can do the same for Rider.
The weekly editorial expresses the
majority opinion of The Rider News.
This week’s editorial was written by the News Editor, Alexis Schulz.
Printed in the 03/25/15 issue.