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Monday, July 13, 2015

Movie Review - The Hunting Ground

The Hunting Ground is an important and timely documentary on the grim statistics of sexual assault on college campuses. Written and produced by the acclaimed Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the film tackles a tough and rarely-mentioned topic, much like the duo’s Oscar-nominated documentary, The Invisible War, which delves into the rampant sexual assault problem in the US military. After seeing the Invisible War, which is highly recommended on Netflix, I was shocked to learn that so many culprits walk away scot free without so much as a slap on the wrist; it seems our military leaders have little concern for the psychological and physical injuries to our beloved soldiers who sacrifice so much to keep our nation safe and free. Essentially, our military has become a hunting ground for sexual predators who believe they have a right to violate others.

Unfortunately, the same is true of our colleges and universities. As The Hunting Ground shows, a whopping 20% of women students will be sexually assaulted while attending university. That’s 1 in 5. For many of us parents who are spending hard-earned (and borrowed) money to educate our kids, one would think the universities and colleges would acknowledge these crimes, punish the assailants and work with local police in bringing them to justice, provide means of support for the victims, and at the very least, warn students and parents of the dangers lurking on college campuses. But sadly, the facts are very different. Most of these fine institutions remain tight-lipped, imposing middle school-type punishments for the perpetrators, all the while insinuating that the statistics are inflated or that the victims are either lying, emotionally disturbed, or deserving of the outcome. It’s enough to make one’s blood boil!

A comment regarding the film: it is wonderfully done with great cinematography, a compelling story with engaging characters, and sufficient drama that keeps the viewer waiting on the edge of the seat for justice to be served. Unfortunately, when it comes to changing age-old institutions run by educators determined to preserve their reputations, one must be very patient before significant changes occur.

Enter the two heroines of the documentary, Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark, from my alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill. Both young women are attractive, smart as a whip, and wise beyond their years; they each bear their unique battle wounds from an endless fight against the behemoth university system to extract some sense of justice. Tragically, both were violently raped by fellow students and seamlessly pushed aside by university authorities after reporting the crime. As instructed, they tried to forget about the assault and move on with their lives, but when depression set in and the effects of PTSD took control, they realized professional help was needed.

Over time, the number of additional victims who came forward grew so large that it became obvious the university was sitting on a very big problem that was only getting worse. Just barely in their twenties, the two girls went public, banded together, and started a dialogue that led to a successful Title IX case against UNC. Media coverage followed, and with it, intimidation and death threats. But these two young crusaders stood firm and refused to back down. Victims from other universities across the US reached out and shared their similar stories, revealing that sexual assault on college campuses has become a growing epidemic.

Lest one assume this an issue unique to the South, the viewer is presented with additional testimonies that prove these crimes are prevalent all over the country. Harvard, Stanford, Florida State, and Notre Dame are some of the universities highlighted by the filmmakers, but the problem is rampant. Fraternities with their rumored rape dungeons and regaled athletes are the obvious danger zones, as are clubs, bars, and drunken parties. But statistics show that one-on-one friendships in supposed safe settings are risky as well.

One featured victim, who still suffers emotional pain, was lured to a supposed Halloween party by friends, only to find she had entered a well-laid trap. Alcohol seems to be common in most cases, along with spiked drinks, and heads smashed against hard surfaces in an eerily similar way that it made me wonder whether there are underground classes where these young men are taught how to immobilize their victims. Suicides follow and the victim’s parents are left heartbroken and confused as to why the university and/or local police never dealt with the matter. Why is it their traumatized child was forced to continue attending class with his or her rapist who in many cases received nothing more than a firm scolding? Ironically, the institutions seem to care more about plagiarism and other honor violations than sexual assault.

As the footage moved to late-night fraternity parties, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, as though I was watching a Hollywood psychodrama. Haunting images of attractive girls slinking behind frat house doors made me want to jump out of my seat—don’t they know what will happen to them in that devil’s den where rowdy “brothers” lurk in packs, complete with drugs, spiked alcohol, and cellphones set to record their evil deeds for all the Internet to see? These young men are presented as brute beasts enraged with mild-altering testosterone that has the ability to turn a bright, well-cultured gentleman into the most base of animals. I know I’m exaggerating, but am I really? Just watch and listen to the victims tell their sordid tales. As a mother of three young college students, I scratch my head, wondering how this can happen. It is certainly proof that man is totally depraved, as the Bible states.

The story finally escalates to the world of college sports, particularly the FSU football team, where a very high-profile quarterback is accused of a most heinous crime. The victim’s account is heart-breaking, and her attempt at fighting the all-powerful university athletic program for an ounce of retribution is like fists flailing at the air. DNA from a rape-kit connects him to the crime, but that is as far as it goes. Another victim comes forward, but the evidence is insufficient. He goes on to play in a national championship game and is the number one draft pick in the NFL, while she quits school and suffers the taunts of her fellow classmates. It is another needless tragedy that bolsters this most sobering statistic: less than 4% of college students are athletes, yet student athletes are responsible for 19% of sexual assaults on college campuses.

As one might conclude from the tone of this review, The Hunting Ground does a superb job of stirring the mama bear in all of us parents who are ready to fight to the death for our kids. I may be a die-hard UNC Tarheel, but university (or Panhellenic) loyalty will never usurp the fierce loyalty I have for my own flesh and blood.

The first step in implementing change is to talk about the problem, and this documentary is a great place to start. I urge every parent with college-aged children to watch this film and educate the entire family on the risks of sexual assault. And as for us Christians, we must pray for divine protection, healing for the victims, and a change that will last to the next generations.

For more information about viewing this powerful film, contact http://www.thehuntinggroundfilm.com.

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