Andrea Pino, left, and Annie Clark are among five women who filed a complaint against the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill over its handling and reporting of sexual assaults. They have also helped launch two web sites to help other students file complaints. They are shown on the campus of the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, on August 15, 2013. (Jonathan Alcorn/MCT)
Colleges promise to be there for students and foster their best interests. But what happens when a student’s best interest clashes with a school’s treasured status?
Director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, the team behind “The Invisible War” – a documentary that addressed the epidemic of sexual assault in the US military – have released “The Hunting Ground,” an illuminating exposé on what they present as rape culture on college campuses that arrives in the midst of a national debate launched by the Obama administration.
Fifty-five college and universities from Harvard to the University of California, Berkeley are under investigation by the Department of Education for their alleged mishandling of rape accusations.
“The Hunting Ground” opens with home videos of young men and women bursting with elation as they opening their college acceptance letters.
These joyful vignettes juxtapose what the documentary will exhibit: these students believed that going to college is a step toward the realization of their goals. But for some, that dream will turn into a nightmare.
“The Hunting Ground focuses on Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, two survivors of sexual assault who have become advocates in addressing sexual violence on college campuses nationwide by joining forces to launch the End Rape on Campus organization.
After the University of North Carolina failed to bring their alleged assailants to justice, Pino and Clark invoked Title IX – a federal gender equity law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance – to file a federal complaint against their university.
Only then – after the school’s federal funding was put in jeopardy – did the university take these two women seriously.
The remaining documentary is devoted to revealing that universities and colleges nationwide keep their crime reports artificially low so that they can receive more money in the form of federal funds, donations, and revenue generated by their alumni.
Whether or not the message the director is trying to communicate is balanced, he does make a compelling argument.
Education is a business, and businesses have a financial obligation to protect their investors. Some even go so far as to disregard what is right for what is financially advantageous.
In the later half of the documentary, Clark and Pino are seen again offering support for other victims of sexual assault.
Helpless, scared, or isolated, victims would contact them to finally confide their troubles with someone who understands.
The movie’s focus is not so much on the fact that women are being assaulted. Instead it reveals institutional lack of response and non-action when the students seek help and justice.
Some may judge this documentary as being a one-sided, incomplete view of college campus rape culture.
Nevertheless it derives power from the narrative of victims who share traumatic stories of abuse by both their attackers and the institutions that are supposed to exist for the good of their students.
The documentary’s purpose is simply to shine the light on a disregarded but prevalent tolerance of sexual assault all too common on college campuses.
The film is not entertaining, nor is it meant to be. However, “The Hunting Ground” is an informative, eye opening experience that should be seen by everyone – especially by those enrolled or are transferring into a major university in the near future.
For the convenience of everyone at Citrus College, the Executive Board of the Associated Students of Citrus College is sponsoring several screenings for Sex 101 week from April 6th to April 9th in the Campus Center. Those who go can expect to be enlightened about the horrific realities that are unfortunately too often part of the college experience.