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Arts & Life

Film Review: How College Campuses Became 'The Hunting Ground'

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Andrea and Annie, two students at the University of North Carolina, couldn't have had a worse college bonding experience. During their freshman year, both were sexually assaulted. The trauma united them to speak out about how badly sexual assault victims are treated on U.S. college campuses.

Subsequently followed across the country by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the director and producer of the startling new documentary The Hunting Ground, the young women manage to amass an army of like-minded survivors.

Dick and Ziering open the film with anonymous students’ joyous reactions upon learning they’ve been accepted into their chosen colleges. Scenes of freshman orientation events at campuses across the country follow, but the tone of the film abruptly changes. One after another, dozens of young women (and three men) introduce themselves and speak in generalities about their collective sexual assaults. According to estimates, one out of every five female students is sexually assaulted while in college — but experts believe most women don't report their assaults, so the numbers could be much higher. Annie recalls how, after her assault, she didn’t have a clue what her next steps should be — she ended up Googling “how to report a rape at UNC.”

The film's endless stream of stories from Harvard to Berkeley pulverizes the senses. Rape and sexual assault appear to be happening everywhere, but there’s no uniformity as to how cases are handled. During one period, Stanford logged 259 reports of sexual assault — but only one person was expelled. Students are repeatedly discouraged from reporting the crimes to the police, lest word get out to potential students and/or donors that the school is dangerous.

Social media becomes a source of more trauma for the victims who speak out. “I hope you die screaming,” reads one tweet; another says, “Fuck you and your cult of victimhood.” And should the alleged rapist be an athlete — 4 percent of college men are athletes but 19 percent of sexual assaults are committed by them — he is probably going to be kept on the team until sports season is over.

The Hunting Ground concludes with some much-needed uplift. Footage of demonstrations aiming to raise sensitivity among students and faculty are attended by men as well as women. Andrea and Annie discover that legal challenges are possible due to Title IX language about hostile environments. And as they continue their campaign, they're joined by advocates who, by allowing their faces to be filmed and stories to be told, are finding their voices sometimes years after their rapes.

The Hunting Ground | Dir. Kirby Dick | 103 minutes | Rated PG-13 | Glenwood Arts, 3707 West 95th Street, Overland Park, 913-642-1133. The April 10 screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with students from the University of Kansas who have been working to reform sexual assault policies at the school. Associate Producer Ian Rose, originally scheduled to participate, will be unable to attend.

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