No students think it will happen to them, and no parents think it will happen to their child. Yet, according to the Department of Justice, one in five female college students is sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is a real problem that exists on every college campus in this country, and it’s something that both students (male and female) and parents need to be aware of.
One way to gain a greater understanding of this issue is by watching the 2015 documentary, The Hunting Ground. The film, which calls campus sexual assault an epidemic, focuses on the stories of survivors at a wide variety of colleges around the U.S. Perhaps even more disturbing than the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses is the way most of these survivors’ colleges dealt with the students’ reports.
According to the movie, 88 percent of women who are sexually assaulted in college do not report the assault. At many colleges, those who do report are not adequately supported, and perpetrators are not sufficiently punished. The movie points out that college administrators’ first priority is to protect their institution and its reputation, and in many cases, there are financial incentives to protect perpetrators rather than victims.
Students in the film who reported their assault to administrators frequently encountered the following:
- They were questioned about their own behavior (i.e., “How much had you had to drink?”, “What were you wearing?”, “Why didn’t you try to fight?”) to the point that the students felt they were being blamed for what happened to them.
- They were encouraged not to pursue disciplinary action on campus or go to the police.
- When students did pursue disciplinary action on campus, most perpetrators were not punished at all or their punishment was insignificant (i.e., being suspended over the summer).
Two of the survivors in the movie, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, were both assaulted at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. These women created a national network of survivors of campus sexual assault. They discovered that when students are found responsible for sexual assault and allowed to remain on campus, that is a violation of Title IX, which guarantees gender equity in education. Colleges that violate Title IX can lose federal funding.
Pino and Clark learned that they could file a Title IX complaint against UNC with the Department of Education, and that is exactly what they did. Then, they traveled the country, connecting with other survivors and helping them file complaints against their own schools.
When the film was released, more than 100 colleges and universities were under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints. So, thanks to the work of Pino, Clark, and other survivors and their allies, perhaps this long-standing epidemic can be stemmed.
Pino and Clark started a non-profit organization, End Rape on Campus. The website provides information on what individuals can do to prevent sexual assault, how to get involved in the movement to end sexual assault on campus, and what to do if you are assaulted.
The Hunting Ground is currently available on both Netflix and Amazon Prime, and the film’s website includes a downloadable parent guide.