Documentary film “The Hunting Ground” cheerfully begins with the montage of video clips showing young girls excited to be accepted by the colleges they applied to for admission. They are all full of hope and pride as expecting what they will learn and experience more through their upcoming years of higher education, and Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March is prominently played on the soundtrack as those big college ceremonies welcoming new students are shown on the screen.
But what is going to be presented in “The Hunting Ground” is not a pretty picture at all, and its alarming presentation on rape in campus is going to put you into many infuriating moments of shock and outrage. As listening to many rape survivors, the documentary shows us a big, ugly picture of how this serious act of crime has been willfully overlooked within the American institutions of higher learning for many years, and it is really chilling to imagine that so many young college students in US are still left to the potential danger of sexual assaults in their academic nests which are supposed to not only nurture but also protect them.
The documentary starts with two former University of North Carolina students, Andre Pino and Annie E. Clark. While their backgrounds are very different from each other, both of them come to us as young women who are smart and articulate, and we listen to them as they talk about how much hopeful they were around the time when they began their first year in the University of North Carolina. Everything in the campus was new and exciting to them during their first semester, and they were willing to go forward for more.
But then they encountered the dark sides of campus life in a very painful way. Pino and Clark give us the detailed accounts of their respective traumatic experiences, and we cannot help but notice the similarities between their individual circumstances. Their incidents of rape happened while they were considerably drunk during campus evening party like many other students, and that made them pretty vulnerable to the perpetrators of their rapes, who approached to them nicely at first but then cruelly exploited their vulnerability.
Struggling to process what irreversibly happened to them, Pino and Clark did try to get any help or support from their university officials, but they were frustrated to see how the university officials callously handled their cases. They felt angry and hurt again as nothing much was done to the guys who sexually assaulted them, and it was really fortunate for these young ladies to come across each other later and then bond together through their common personal trauma.
They are not alone at all, and the documentary presents a diverse array of college rape survivors from many other American universities. While most of them are female, there are also a number of male rape survivors, and we hear about how male rape survivors are usually far more reluctant to report their cases compared to female ones. No matter how much they tried, these rape survivors and many other ones were mostly ignored by their universities just like Pino and Clark, and we get the staggering statistical data of how many reported incidents of rape in campus have been frequently dismissed with no serious punishment in many prominent American universities. Even in a few cases where perpetrators were punished, they only received light disciplinary punishment; some of them did get expelled, but that was done *after* graduation.
As one of the experts interviewed in the film points out, this problematic trend can possibly nurture serial rapists, and one disturbing statistical report chillingly supports his reasonable concern. Sure, most of male students in American universities are nice and decent boys, but there are always bad apples bound to be sexual predators prowling after potential victims around their campuses, and, needless to say, they will be more dangerous once they see how easily they can get away with their heinous deeds.
The director Kirby Dick previously made “The Invisible War” (2012), an equally devastating documentary which is about the numerous unjust cases of sexual assaults in the US military. He again tackles a very sensitive subject here, and he goes further with several big factors contributing to the overwhelmingly silent disregard on sexual assaults in campus among many American universities. Not so surprisingly, many campus fraternities have been visibly linked with sexual assaults, and we get some of very uncomfortable examples (“No means Yes! / Yes means Anal!”). Most university officials are usually more concerned about protecting the precious public image of their universities, and they certainly prefer to keep quiet about reports on rape in campus – especially if their popular star athletes happen to be alleged perpetrators.
In case of Erica Kinsman, this young student of Florida State University had to go through a very difficult period after she charged its star quarterback player Jameis Winston with rape in 2012, and it is really exasperating to see Winston being allowed to play even after this charge and then going up and up with more support, popularity, and fame. He received the Heisman Trophy in 2013, and then, after completely (and conveniently) cleared of the charge against him thanks to his university and the Florida state government in 2014, he was promptly transferred to NFL (he currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Winston may be innocent as he has claimed, but he has been not that straight about this issue, and, regardless of whether he is guilty as charged or not, the Florida State University and the Florida state government deserve to be criticized for bending and violating laws for him.
As some of you know, there have been controversies surrounding how accurately “The Hunting Ground” presents its facts, and all I can say is that Dick and his crew convincingly make a very urgent argument on their serious subject. I doubt whether there is any possible definite way to prove the veracity of their statements in the film, but, as far as I could see during my viewing, Pino, Clark, Kinsman, and other rape survivors interviewed in the film look candid and straightforward as confiding their traumatic moments to us, and it is touching to see how Pino and Clark step forward and try to make changes along with many others. They make some progress, and, as we are reminded at the end of the documentary, it is just the beginning for them and many young college students around the country. Some may call them victims, but they are survivors in my opinion, and I sincerely hope that they will keep going on with more progresses to come.