Critical Reality: “The Hunting Ground”
For this week’s column, I took a break from watching TV shows and decided to watch a documentary. I had been waiting a week for Netflix to release “The Hunting Ground,” and even marked the date in my planner. When the documentary finally released, I set aside the time to give the film my undivided attention, inspired by my love of documentaries and the seriousness of the subject at hand.
“The Hunting Ground” centers around the rise of sexual assault cases at universities and how universities are handling the issue. Students Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark, the subjects of the film, talk about their own sexual assaults. They jointly filed a Title IX complaint against their university, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for allegedly mishandling their cases.
Student survivors from campuses across the nation discuss the issues that assault victims face when they decide to move forward with reporting to their campus administrators. To corroborate the accounts of these students, campus faculty from a range of campuses included accounts of their own, stating what higher officials told them to do when a student assault victim comes forward wanting to report. They basically encouraged faculty to dissuade an assault victim from reporting in order to keep the university’s stats low.
Honestly, I was in shock while viewing the film. The mishandling of sexual assault cases and the retaliation that victims face when reporting to police departments was absolutely horrifying. Why was this happening to campus sexual assault victims? Apparently, it all goes back to false reporting and universities’ reputations, which should hardly ever be a factor when deciding whether or not to move forward with a thorough investigation in such claims.
The filmmakers were able to backup their claims with facts and statistics that prove that sexual assaults on campuses are becoming more of an issue than was initially thought before.
As with many controversial documentaries, “The Hunting Ground” has received both criticism and support since it was first debuted. Critics point out the flaws in a victim’s story, almost as if the victims are on trial for even coming forward and telling their stories.
One of the cases heavily criticized in the film is that of Kamilah Willingham. An article on Slate’s website debunks the idea that an assault ever occurred between Willingham and Brandon Winston, the accused in her case.
That same Slate article found that intoxicants played a role in that case, but no matter how many drugs a person takes or the number of drinks they ingest, a person cannot legally consent to any sexual activity if he or she is under the influence. Period. And that goes for both men and women. The article brings up that Willingham and the accused did take drugs and they did have a lot to drink. With that being said, Willingham’s university and the police department’s handling of the case is the main highlight of the film. The filmmakers made it clear from the beginning that the film’s purpose was to advocate for the victims.
In support of the film, an article on the Huffington Post’s website negates critiques, arguing that all of the criticism only proves the point that the documentary is highlighting: issues of reporting sexual assaults to university officials and universities being held accountable for not properly handling these cases. These critics are setting out to disprove the advocacy journalism the film presents, instead of focusing on the main point that the film is making.
As is true for most advocacy journalism, the film is one-sided but serves its purpose. It has sparked a long needed debate. Instead of pointing out the faults, the critics and universities should use this film as motivation to do right by victims and protect them rather than vilify them.
There are active efforts being made to change the way we, as a nation, look at sexual assault on campuses. We no longer think of it as a rare occurrence. I want to say that we are moving in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. Universities are taking the initiative to better handle sexual assault reports, and the government is beginning to hold universities and their officials accountable.
“The Hunting Ground” is definitely a film to watch for getting a closer look at what victims face when they come forward and how they are treated as a whole.