The Hunting Ground
“The Hunting Ground” from its very title is a straightforward and aggressively critical examination of rape culture in the United States, especially as it pertains to college students.
Written and directed by the Academy Award-nominated Kirby Dick, the documentary offers heart-wrenching first-hand accounts of sexual assault survivors and their collective fight to not only end sexual assault but also change the conversation surrounding it.
From beginning to end, “The Hunting Ground” is a call to action.
I write this review as a journalist and a college student, but I write it first as a woman. A woman who came into college three years ago understanding full well that there was a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted during my time here. A woman who came to college knowing the buddy system was going to be my best bet to get home safely and the pepper spray on my IU lanyard was going to be my first line of defense.
“The Hunting Ground” is one of the most important films any college student or parent will see this year. Sexual assault is a story worth telling, and this documentary does it better than I’ve ever seen.
The film’s moments of weakness, however, come from the same coin as its strengths. It quickly becomes clear that what you’re watching has a clear, no-holds agenda. It is advocacy filmmaking at its best: emotional, inventive and divisive.
It pinpoints specific benefits that each rung of the collegiate system stands to gain from underreporting or under-prosecuting campus rape cases. The schools, the film’s experts argue, first have an obligation to protect themselves and the image of the institutions they represent.
The documentary cites statistics of schools’ lackluster rape statutes from coast to coast, including one from IU.
“The Hunting Ground” makes it quite clear that everyone wins in cases of sexual assault, except for the assaulted.
The film argues that fraternities tie alumni and their donations to the universities. The athletic departments’ complicity in silencing these cases is because of the huge investment they make in these athletes and the multi-million dollar industry that depends on their playing time.
From time to time, the rhetorical devices used in “The Hunting Ground” are a bit heavy-handed. The film opens with clips of students responding to receiving acceptance letters from their dream schools. The movie quickly offers an almost violent juxtaposition to the tears of joy and excitement by setting it up against the realities that primarily await women on college campuses.
One of the main subjects, Annie Clark, said, “The first few weeks I made some of my best friends. But two of us were sexually assaulted before classes even started.”
One of the most compelling parts of the documentary was the effort to include voices and stories of men affected by sexual assault. Though the film asserts the number of cases of assault reported by men are nearly infinitesimal, it was critical to the point the filmmakers were trying to prove: The patriarchy is a violent, often unapologetic purveyor of violence, and anyone can be left victimized in its wake.
In the end, this film is a message to colleges and universities nationwide and to the institutions that allow sexual assault to go under reported and unprosecuted: People are paying attention. It is a message to those administrations that the women who are raped on their own campuses deserve security as well.
It is a reminder to the survivors of sexual assault that there is a network of advocacy and support out there working to ensure that another student won’t one day have to share the same campus with their attacker.
Ultimately, “The Hunting Ground” demands an answer to the question: Shouldn’t all students be protected?
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