The documentary The Hunting Ground explores the crisis of sexual assault on campus while profiling the transformation of students as they evolve from victims to survivors to empowered activists. The film is also a chilling indictment of the widespread failure of college administrators to adequately respond to allegations of rape on campus.
It is not an easy film for college administrators to watch. But yesterday, representatives of 33 Pennsylvania colleges and universities sat together and watched The Hunting Ground in a special screening and panel presentation at the Governor’s Residence, hosted by Pennsylvania Commission for Women, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) and Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.
The event was held in conjunction with the It’s On Us campaign’s 2015 National Week of Action.
“Pennsylvania is home to some of the best colleges and universities in the country, and we must ensure that our students are not only being academically enriched but also cared for and protected emotionally and physically as well,” Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement. “It is a priority for my administration to ensure that sexual assault on our campuses is not tolerated and that our schools are promoting the best possible academic and social environment for our students.”
More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice. In Pennsylvania, there were 136 reported assaults on college campus between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015. This statistic does not include assaults that were not reported.
After the screening, Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol E. Tracy participated in a panel discussion about issues involved in adjudicating allegations of rape on campus, alongside the State System of Higher Education’s Assistant Vice Chancellor and Title IX Coordinator Dr. Victoria Sanders, PCAR’s Chief Public Affairs Officer Kristen Houser, and Sofie Karasek, a student survivor featured in the film who is also the co-founder of End Rape on Campus.
During the panel discussion, Tracy pointed out that many conversations in the media about how to best adjudicate allegations of rape on campus are misleading, especially when the issue is presented as a debate over whether rape allegations should be investigated by school administrators or the police. In reality, rape in a college environment can be both a civil and criminal violation. It is not an either/or issue.
“The obligations of the schools and universities… is to ensure that there is an environment free of sex discrimination, and sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment, which is a form of sex discrimination,” explained Tracy. “Those are very important issues, and they’re also very complicated issues, because sexual assault is a civil rights violation, which is Title IX, and it’s also a crime. The two processes may be going on in two parallel investigations.”
It is always up to the survivor whether or not to pursue either a civil remedy through a school-based displinary process, and whether or not to go to the police.
It’s On Us is a public awareness and education campaign which was launched by the White House in September 2014 to focus attention on the issue of campus sexual assault. The campaign seeks to engage college students and communities in preventing sexual assault. It was launched in partnership with the Center for American Progress’ Generation Progress, along with student body leadership from nearly 200 colleges and universities across the country.
The Hunting Ground will premiere on CNN on November 19 at 9pm EST.