America’s college rape epidemic is institutional

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Hunting Ground
RPL Film Theatre
May 21-24
4 out of 5

According to The Hunting Ground’s statistics, sexual assaults on American campuses are on the rise and, more often than not, going unpunished. One in five female college and university students are assaulted every year. Only five per cent of those attacks are reported. Yet in 2012, 40 per cent of colleges where the assaults took place reported no rapes.

The penalties that do happen are just as scandalous. These include one-day suspensions, mandated book reports, community service (at a rape crisis center, of all places) and expulsion, post-graduation.

How deeply rooted is this problem in the college experience? The Sygma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is now known as “Sexual Assault Expected”.

Two-time Academy Award nominated Kirby Dick (This Movie Is Not Yet Rated, The Invisible War) tackles the subject with remarkable sobriety in the grimly titled documentary The Hunting Ground. Through two survivors who created an outreach organization and countless testimonies (but only one college dean), Dick makes clear that university rape culture is abided and sometimes enabled by the institutions themselves — an attitude linked to their financial wellbeing, and he doesn’t have to go out of his way to prove it.

The most emblematic case is the one of Florida State University’s star quarterback Jameis Winston. Widely expected to be the number one pick in the NFL 2015 draft, Winston has been at the center of a sexual assault investigation, in which the victim has endured acute harassment from football-crazed fans and claims to have been pressured by FSU to drop her complaint.

Dick’s approach to documentary filmmaking is almost scholarly and has the results to prove its effectiveness (The Invisible War triggered a change in military policy when the power of prosecuting sexual assault cases was taken away from unit commanders). In this particular case, his biggest achievement is to find evidence of a systemic failure to protect the victims.

The Hunting Ground is hurt a bit by the near absolute absence of academic authorities. Then again, their refusal to participate is quite telling. It’s sad how every single institution accused of turning a blind eye responds to rape allegations in the same way: “[Insert college name] does not tolerate sexual violence in any form.” And yet, they do.