On Sunday, November 12, 2015 and December 27, 2015 CNN aired “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. There was much controversy about whether to play the documentary in the first place. In particular, an attorney representing one of the assailants depicted in the film warned CNN that if it aired the documentary, there would be repercussions. CNN played it anyway.
As I watched the documentary, I went onto Twitter to see what people were saying about the trending hashtag #TheHuntingGround. Overall, it was pretty mixed. Some were praising the women (and men) who spoke up and took a stand against their abusers and told their story when others wanted them silenced. Others on social media called the women “liars” or claimed that they were “ruining poor men’s lives by claiming they sexually assaulted them.” The latter comment coming from other women was quite astonishing and, if I’m being honest, a bit infuriating.
Regardless of one’s individual opinion on whether the women portrayed in the film are credible, they don’t know their story. They don’t know what really happened between the victim and alleged assailant. For me, as a woman, seeing women perpetuating the abuse and negative treatment of other women was extremely disappointing.
Criticize the film or people in it if you must, but looking at the bigger picture, the film brings to light an epidemic that is going on in higher academia. Students who are sexually assaulted and who attempt to report the abuse to their colleges are being silenced or pushed to not report at alarming rates. This kind of conduct by a school is particularly horrible because statistics show that fewer than 5% of reported rapes are false, while almost 60% go unreported. It’s difficult enough for a victim of assault to build up the courage to disclose, but to then be met from their school with judgment, discouragement or flat out denial, is outrageously wrong.
The response to the film should not be about whose side of the story to believe, but instead, should be about how we, as a society, can better support victims and change the culture of silence and cover-up from higher education. Granted, our country is much more progressive than the majority of others around the globe, but shouldn’t we expect more from our schools? I think we should.