Sunday night CNN will broadcast the documentary film “The Hunting Ground” (8 p.m. EST), which focuses on the subject of rape on college campuses. It is the work of writer-director Kirby Dick, along with the producer Amy Ziering, and it follows, among others, the narrative of two young women from the University of North Carolina. These two women, Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, both were victims of rape while students at the university and together they filed a Title IX lawsuit against the school. They adopted this strategy, which prevents universities found guilty of engaging in sexual discrimination from receiving federal money, after they say they tried and failed to get justice from university authorities as victims of sexual violence.

Ms. Clark and Ms. Pino, who are shown creating a nationwide network for victims, are far from the only subjects interviewed. Mr. Dick, the director, follows the cases of multiple victims across diverse campuses, often focusing on our most prestigious universities as a way of underscoring his point. There is a great deal of evidence presented that makes several main points:

  1. Sexual violence against women on campuses is widespread;
  2. Response of university officials is often tepid, inadequate, or even hostile;
  3. Victims wind up traumatized by not only by the original crime but also by the aftermath—the inadequate support, the  hostile reaction, the failure to prosecute, and sometimes, even persecution by fellow students and the celebration of the perpetrators if they are sports heroes on campus.

“The Hunting Ground” has come under much scrutiny and has been criticized as inaccurate in some of its details. CNN has been standing behind the film despite multiple attempts to discredit it. Just this week, professors at Harvard launched a defensive report dealing with one particular case detailed in the film, involving a law school student, yet The New York Times writes:

Last December, the Department of Education found the law school in violation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds, for its response to sexual assaults.

The Times also said:

“Everything in ‘The Hunting Ground’ is accurate and we fully stand behind our Harvard Law survivor’s account of her assault, as well as the accounts of all the subjects in our film,” Mr. Dick and Ms. Ziering wrote in a text message to a New York Times reporter. “Studies confirm that failed policies on campuses overwhelmingly favor perpetrators, enabling them to commit crimes with impunity. Where are the letters of outrage from these professors decrying this grave injustice which has been going on for decades, and has a devastating impact on survivors, their families and our society?”

I think it’s a mistake for Harvard to be defensive on this issue, though it’s understandable that law school professors want one of their students, the man accused in this case, to be fairly portrayed. But what about the larger issue, which is really the point of the film? What about the female victim, also one of their students, and the other victims of campus rape? The Times reports:

In September, a year after the Obama administration started an initiative called “It’s on Us” to tackle campus sexual violence, the Association of American Universities released its finding, from a survey of more than 150,000 students at 27 universities, that nearly a quarter of female undergraduates were the victims of sexual assault and misconduct. At Harvard, which had the highest response rate of all the schools surveyed, 31 percent of female seniors said they had been the targets of nonconsensual sexual contact.

One young woman I know describes, for example, arriving at freshman orientation week at her Midwestern liberal arts college and being immediately set upon by the upper class student athletes, who were on campus for preseason sports practice. It was considered a “sport” to see how many freshman women they could get to come to frat parties and get drunk in order to take advantage of them. While this girl wouldn’t accept their “invitations, (and was branded on as an irredeemable stuck-up bitch at this small campus ever after), her roommate was not so lucky — she went to a party and was raped her first night on campus.

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  • MaryAnn Gaughan November 19, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Thank you for spreading the word on this powerful documentary. I believe it is important for everyone to see. Your article is well written and expressed. Now we need to do something as a society to stop the rape culture on college campuses.

  • Phyllis Dupret November 19, 2015 at 10:13 am

    As a mother, grandmother and just plain older woman I find this heart breaking…its such an unbelievably sad fact of our times..whatever it takes to change this we must do NOW……………..