What The Hunting Ground Misses About Campus Sexual Violence

University College, built in 1851, the oldest building on campus.
University College, built in 1851, the oldest building on campus.

When I was a young child, my grandparents molested me. I wasn't their first victim. I pray I was their last. My story is painful, but it's a common one. An estimated one out of four girls and one out of six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18, the age in which most freshmen enter college. Even though I identify as a survivor of sexual violence, stories like mine are largely omitted in the current campus sexual violence movement.

This past weekend, CNN, aired the film, The Hunting Ground, a documentary exploring campus sexual assault. While this film has helped to raise an important issue that impacts too many college students, it has also contributed to a polarizing discussion about rape rather than a broader exploration of how sexual violence impacts college campuses. There are several ways that a broader conversation on sexual violence can improve outcomes for campus sexual assault awareness and response.

Child sexual abuse survivors can help shape our collective understanding about perpetrators of sexual violence, which is important for campus justice proceedings and trainings for faculty and administrators. The overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse survivors were abused by someone they knew, with over 60 percent of victims abused by someone they or their family trusted. The faces of perpetrators are not just people we know, but people we like or love. My grandparents were upstanding members of the community, extremely charismatic, and popular among their friends. The fact that someone is well-liked, charismatic, or charming doesn't make them innocent.

While campuses absolutely need to step up to keep male and female students safe, the litigious lens of Title IX obscures broader implications of sexual violence and how they play out on campus. By the time I arrived on my college campus as a 17-year-old freshman, I was already a victim.

I was binge dieting, drinking heavily, and cutting myself -- all fairly typical, and frankly, mild responses to the trauma of being abused. I didn't need Title IX or legal support -- I needed intensive therapy. There was little available to me on campus at the time, and unfortunately not much has changed in the last 15 years. I sought services elsewhere, and luckily found a pathway to healing and recovery.

Two-year and four-year colleges and universities concerned about on-time completion and career pathways ought to consider the impact that the prevalent issue of sexual violence has on their students and alumni. Survivors of child sexual abuse face higher risk of both physical and psychological illness, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey. Supporting survivors goes beyond providing access to justice. Campuses are in a unique position to provide healing resources to survivors and helping them navigate the trauma of child sexual abuse. Research institutions can add to our collective -- and incomplete -- understanding of prevalence, evidence, and response both to sexual violence on campus and in other communities.

The current dialogue about campus sexual violence pits groups of people against each other. We cannot change our response to sexual violence if college administrators are fighting with campus activists, fraternities are fighting with feminists, or men fighting with women. Sexual violence impacts all of us. The Hunting Ground is an important first step to shedding light on the impact of sexual violence on college campuses. Addressing the needs of sexual abuse survivors regardless of whether the assault took place before arriving on campus might also spur broader efforts to prevent campus sexual violence. This lens creates opportunities for campus administrators, faculty, and male and female students to move beyond defensiveness and work together to find solutions that create a world where all survivors can reach their full potential.

Views expressed here are my own. Find more resources about ending sexual violence on The Enliven Project.


Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.