A powerful new documentary by the filmmakers behind “The Invisible War” explores a national epidemic of rape on campus. “The Hunting Ground,” which screened at Sundance on Friday, debuted to an emotional standing ovation.
Director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, whose documentary about rape in the military sparked national awareness of the issue and action, have now turned their cameras on campus rape and the movement underway to fight it.
The film focuses on the David-and-Goliath battle waged by former University of North Carolina students Andrea Pino and Annie Clark to force their alma mater to address the issue.
The students joined forces after learning each had experienced campus rape. The two succeeded in convincing the Department of Education to investigate the issue as a violation of Title IX, the equal opportunity regulation that applies to universities, and which they argued was violated by UNC’s anemic response to them.
Incredibly, the federal government is now investigating 90 universities to determine whether their responses to reported rapes violate the law, thus threatening their Title IX funding.
Kirby and Ziering said they interviewed well over 100 rape victims whose experiences were remarkably similar, whether they were raped at Harvard, Notre Dame or the University of Oregon. The women said they were encouraged to reconsider reporting their rape, their credibility was questioned, they were often asked how they acted or if they invited the assault and more often than not, no action ensued by the university.
Ziering and Dick said they felt compelled to investigate the issue. After “The Invisible War,” “We kept getting emails: ‘Ms. Ziering, this is what happened to me. We need a film about us,’” Ziering told the audience ahead of the screening. “We could not not make this film.”
One egregious case detailed in the film involves Erica Kinsman, a student at Florida State University who has sought charges against star Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, a Heisman trophy winner whom she alleges raped her after meeting him in a bar. She tells her story publicly for the first time in the film.
Kinsman claims she was drugged and raped by Winston and tried to go to the police. The police dragged out their investigation, and when a rape kit was finally administered — matching Winston’s DNA — the prosecutor declined to file charges.
She now feels isolated and undergoes threats and alienation on an ongoing basis for having pointed the finger at a campus sports hero.
The film effectively makes the case that universities have a vested interest in underplaying and indeed quashing reports of rape on campus, instead of helping the victims. The issue is a PR nightmare, and poses a greater legal liability from those who may be expelled for rape than by the accusers who are ignored.
The film exposed many little-known (or, perhaps, believed) facts about campus rape:
- Multiple studies over the past decade-plus indicate 16-20% of women are raped while in college.
- Eight percent of male students are believed to be responsible for 90 percent of the assaults.
- Only a fraction of the reported rapes results in action against the alleged perpetrators.
- 88 percent of victims do not report rape.
Influential audience members included documentarians Rory Kennedy and Lucy Walker, former Turner chief Phil Kent, Senators Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren, who wrote (and donated) a song for the film which was sung by Lady Gaga.
Actress Camryn Manheim was among those in the audience deeply moved by the film: “Powerful. Courageous. Brave. Vocal,” she told TheWrap. “They are f—ing kick-ass. I am in awe of these women.”
The film, by CNN Films and Radius debuted to a packed screening room at Sundance. It will air on CNN at a date TBA and be distributed in theaters by Radius on Mar. 20.