Many college students who have been raped on campus face retaliation and harassment as they fight for justice. In The Hunting Ground, the students (mostly female but some male) give a painful, absorbing account of not only their sexual assault but also the systemic indifference of the college administrations to whom the victims seek redress. This callousness is as devastating and traumatic as the rampant sexual assaults themselves.
In this 103-minute documentary, college rape is seen from the point of view of the raped student as well as the faculty and administrators who were called upon to take action. One rapist agreed to be interviewed.
While college rapists are a small fraction (about 8 %) of students on campus, they are often repeat offenders who continue to rape with impunity, committing 90% of the rapes. Several women interviewed were raped by the same student. These repeat rapists are empowered with the knowledge that the college will turn a blind eye.
The documentary follows two former University of North Carolina students who were the first rape victims to use Title IX to fight back. (Title IX bans gender discrimination at colleges.) The failure to comply can result in the withdrawal of federal funding upon which colleges depend. To fight for justice and vindication for the indifference of the colleges, the students organize other rape survivors to file Title IX complaints. The use of Title IX in campus sexual assault cases has become a model for rape victims across the country.
The Hunting Ground goes right for the gut. Although the palpable trauma of rape survivors is powerful–with barely contained tears, choking, and trembling–it is the in-depth reporting of the inevitable cover-up by college administrators that is sickening and gut-wrenching. Parents trust colleges to safeguard their daughters and sons. There is an implicit covenant to do so. Why else would parents willingly send their children away? The brazen breach of that covenant is more than shameful. Administrators deny culpability. Former deans and professors who come forward are retaliated against for standing with the survivors. The police give their side of the story which demonstrates their impotence. Why are so many covering up the rapes? Money. Mostly it is about the reputation of the college and the alumni and fraternity donations and the sports team frenzy that brings in millions of dollars. After all, college presidents are hired to raise money. Safeguarding the lives of our children is secondary. One hundred thousand rapes per year will occur if university policy and culture don’t change.
The student accounts — delivered in sorrow and rage, but also with a naiveté of the very young and inexperienced– make this imperfect, sometimes plodding documentary a must-watch for its activism and advocacy.
Note: The Obama administration made the issue of campus assault a priority. In 2014, the White House released guidelines strengthening victims’ rights on how campus rapes are to be treated, Shamefully Secretary Betsy DeVos in May instituted administrative changes that would make it more difficult for victims to file charges against rapists. Biden is on record to reverse the new rules which are an obvious effort by the Trump administration to “shame and silence” survivors of sexual assault
David Edelstein, writing for New York magazine, advised parents to watch The Hunting Ground before sending their children to college. See “College-Rape Documentary The Hunting Ground Plays Like a Horror Movie” February 23, 2015.