The title of our film The Hunting Ground conveys much of what we hoped to illuminate about the epidemic of campus sexual assault:
- College campuses offer serial rapists optimum conditions in which to perpetrate their violence and escape responsibility;
- These conditions are both unique to campus culture and codified in school policies;
- And that, as a consequence, college students are uniquely vulnerable to sexual predators for whom their campus is a veritable "hunting ground."
This is the shameful fact of campus life in America. Our title was meant to convey this in the most vivid and urgent language possible.
This fact is not lost on Congress and the White House. President Obama and Vice President Biden have provided historic leadership on this issue. And Senators Grassley and Rubio, along with Senators Gillibrand and McCaskill and others, have introduced bold bipartisan legislation that would fundamentally alter the incentive structure for schools to report sexual assaults and increase training for students and faculty.
To no one's surprise, powerful interest groups are using shadowy misinformation campaigns to confuse the public and deflect attention from the issue. Some have gone so far as to re-edit segments of our film to illustrate their own erroneous claims.
The Hunting Ground is a horror film about how the dangerous reality of campus sexual assault was ignored, rationalized and challenged inside the ranks of higher education for decades until a movement of student activists forced colleges across the country to finally start dealing with it head-on.
The Hunting Ground opened in theaters February 27. In the first weeks of our release, we've seen two kinds of reactions from colleges and universities:
- On the one hand, we've received more than 1,000 invitations to screen the film on campuses across America. School presidents and administrators have embraced it as an opportunity to demonstrate courage, candor and leadership.
On the other hand, a small group of schools have reacted with the predictable buck-passing, posturing, stonewalling rhetoric that has characterized their response to the campus sexual assault crisis from the beginning. They change the subject. They cast themselves as victims.
With new requests coming in every hour to screen the film on college campuses, we are choosing to not be distracted by a minority of school presidents who can't or won't come to grips with reality. Instead, we're going to consider the first part of our campaign a success. We've seized the attention of the higher-education community and we are doing our part to facilitate a sometimes uncomfortable dialogue between student survivors and the administrations that are meant to serve them.
Now we just have to keep up the pressure. Having spent two years meeting with survivors, experts, school faculty and administrators, and prior to that, three years educating ourselves about sexual assault in the military, we are not about to cede the debate on campus sexual assault to pundits and professional cynics. We will consistently push back when commentators misrepresent what's in the film, or try to discredit our reporting.
For those who claim the statistic in the film that 16-20 percent of undergraduate women will be sexually assaulted in college is an exaggeration, we will direct you to multiple sources for that finding and ask you to consider the research that nearly 90 percent of these assaults go unreported.
For those who criticize campus disciplinary reforms for being prejudiced against the accused, we will point you toward various statements we've made calling for professionalization of campus disciplinary systems to protect both the accuser and the accused. We'll direct you to the wide range of studies showing that incidents of false reporting are found to be in the 2-8 percent range (which tracks with other violent crimes.)
There's a sequence in The Hunting Ground that is always met with pained laughter and head shaking from the audience. It is a montage of statements by college administrators repeating the same empty rhetoric about campus sexual assault: "We take this issue very seriously."
Well, we do take this issue very seriously (unlike some others). In the coming weeks and months of this campaign, we hope that The Hunting Ground inspires serious debate and serious discussion from journalists and policy-makers alike. We owe that much to students.