‘The Hunting Ground’: A Documentary That Delves Into Rape Culture

In recent years, rape and sexual assault on college campuses has become a buzzing news item. Countless books and articles have been written on the topic. Now, however, a documentary, The Hunting Ground, which takes a closer look at the real life events that have flung this topic to the forefront of many people’s minds, will soon be released.

This documentary has been making the rounds through countless film festivals and stirring the hearts of those who view it. Per the New York Times, the Sundance Film Festival billed it as a “piercing, monumental exposé of rape culture on campuses.”

While highlighting institutions like Harvard and Notre Dame, The Hunting Ground also takes a critical look at the fraternity system and critiques the National Football League for allowing the potential drafting of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback and alleged rapist. However, in December, 2014, Winston was cleared of any violation of the Florida State code of conduct due to insufficient evidence. His accuser speaks to her experience in the film.

In that, one of the most moving scenes in the documentary consists of student after student speaking about being sexually assaulted, ignored by authority figures, or needing to deal with endless hurtles because college administrations wished to keep campus rape statistics low.

Further highlighting the obstacles that many experience while attempting to seek justice for such wrongdoing, filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Zeiring found it extremely difficult to get university administration and faculty to open up about such incidents.

“I was shocked at the reticence of the faculty and administrators to speak…speaking out could hurt your career. Even if you moved to another institution, you could be branded as a troublemaker.”

Such a system proves to be problematic, especially when it leads to unretractable conclusions like the suicide of Lizzy Seeberg, who was allegedly attacked by Notre Dame football player Prince Shembo. Shembo was never charged with a crime. In speaking with her father, Zeiring stated that she was moved to tears.

“I began to cry, I had to pull myself together…another one who broke my heart was a girl from Berkeley who hadn’t told her parents yet. I was so upset, she gave me her teddy bear.”

Given the amount of press this issue has received in recent years, in July of last year, a group of bipartisan senators introduced a bill designed to reduce college campus sexual assault. The bill would require universities to conduct anonymous surveys about students’ experiences with sexual assault, and publish the results online.

With the soon release of the The Hunting Ground, this issue will surely gain even more traction, and hopefully inspire a more just solution for all.

[Featured image courtesy of Nathaniel Langston Palmer / Sundance Film Festival]