A couple of years ago, writer/director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering broke the silence on the issue of sexual assault in the military with their gripping documentary The Invisible War. Now, they have tackled the same problem on college campuses with their newest film The Hunting Ground.
Through graphic first-person interviews, fly-on-the-wall footage, and mainstream news stories, The Hunting Ground paints a disturbing picture of the sexually hostile climates of college campuses in America. The accounts are backed up with plenty of academically sourced statistics and facts that are simply chilling. What’s really frightening is not that the assaults happen – unfortunately, rape on college campuses is a very real and well-publicized problem – but the fact that the schools seem to completely cover them up, circling the wagons to protect the reputations of the universities while creating an environment of victim-shaming and blaming. That’s the infuriating part of The Hunting Ground.
Much of The Hunting Ground focuses on two young women – Annie Clark and Andrea Pino – who, both survivors of sexual assault, have founded an organization called End Rape On Campus (EROC). Those are their real names, and the stories in the film are their real stories. In fact, all of the interviewees use their real names, and none of their faces are obscured or blurred out. The testimonials that they share are real, and the fact that faces are placed next to the names and stories helps lend credibility and authenticity to the film. These are strong women who realize that they have nothing to be ashamed of. They’re taking back their lives.
The Hunting Ground is a difficult film to watch, mostly because of how lightly the authority figures whom are trusted to deal with issues like sexual assault actually take the problem. After a while, the stories get sadly predictable; a young woman is assaulted, she files a complaint, and nothing is done. In some cases, the victim is made to take an online class about preventing sexual assault while the alleged attacker suffers no repercussions at all. Many times, the victim endures threats of physical harm and vandalism to their property. Professors and administrators who stand up against the status quo of hiding the assaults find themselves black-balled, denied tenure, and sometimes fired from their university positions.
The last twenty minutes or so of The Hunting Ground are particularly enraging. It is the first person tale of a young woman named Erica Kinsman who was the victim in an extremely high-profile rape case. Kinsman speaks openly and honestly about her experience and how little was done about it by her school and the town’s police force. Her alleged attacker was a famous student athlete (you have probably heard about this case), and as his accuser, Kinsman was shunned and ostracized by her peers. The Hunting Ground shows local news interviews with fellow students from the university calling Kinsman a liar (among other NSFW things), just because she pointed the finger at a semi-famous sports figure who brings prestige and money into the school. The Hunting Ground lets Kinsman tell her side of the story, and frankly, it’s pretty convincing. She comes off as brutally honest and credible, and her interview placed side-by-side with the national press coverage of her case makes her alleged attacker look bad. Very bad.
The Hunting Ground is an important film. It’s a tough one, but it’s a tough subject. Light needs to be shed on this subject, and the brave women in this film are taking a step in the right direction.