Skip to content Skip to navigation

Keep talking! Continuing the conversation about sexual assault on campus

May 18 2015

What comes to mind when hearing the term, “the hunting ground?” To many, it may sound like a wild game hunt, calculating and predatory; yet, it is the title of a documentary film about sexual assault on university campuses across the nation. The following statistics can help clarify the rationale behind the title:

  • One in five undergraduate women, and one in sixteen undergraduate men on college campuses are sexually assaulted every year nationally, according to the Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study prepared for the National Institute of Justice.
  • The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control showed that 37.4 percent of all sexual assault victims are between 18 and 24 years of age.
  • The CSA study also reported that university students are at an increased risk from sexual violence during their first weeks of school (sometimes referred to by campus prevention programs as the high incidence "Red Zone").
  • During their first four semesters at college, 84 percent of women experienced sexual coercion, according to a 2006 research report in "Violence Against Women."

At university screenings of her highly acclaimed film about rape in the military, The Invisible War, producer Amy Ziering started to hear stories from sexual assault survivors on college campuses. When she investigated the statistics, she found they were staggering. She and the Academy-Award nominated director Kirby Dick decided to create the powerful documentary film, The Hunting Ground, in response to the stories they uncovered. 

“The first few weeks, I made some of my best friends, but, two of us were sexually assaulted before classes even began,” states a former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student in the first few minutes of the film. Her experience is not unique. She was assaulted during the Red Zone timeframe. 

Colleges and universities have been aware of the problem of sexual assault for over 20 years and have directed resources toward prevention, and provided services to students who have been sexually assaulted. However, rates of sexual assault have not declined over the last five decades. According to “Confronting Campus Sexual Assault,” a report issued by United Educators, an analysis of claims reported from 104 different campuses showed that 54 percent of reported sexual assault victims are freshmen in college. Two important steps towards putting an end to this epidemic are raising awareness of the problem and encouraging an open dialog from college orientation onwards that engages men, as well as women.

The Hunting Ground, does just that. The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, exposes the reality of sexual assault as part of everyday life on university campuses. The film gives the audience a first-hand look at the survivor experience of the reporting process that can trigger re-traumatization and often includes victim-blaming. The film also documents additional dimensions of sexual assault beyond the traumatic event, including the devastating experience that survivors carry with them, the lack of response from peers as well as universities, and how students and the community contribute to perpetuating rape culture. 

The importance of conversation starters

In a continuing effort to raise awareness and engage the Stanford community, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, along with the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, co-hosted an open screening of  “The Hunting Ground,” with an introduction by executive producer, Regina Scully. In prevention education, often the most effective programs are conversation starters. The discussion following the film allowed the audience to share their thoughts, ask pressing questions and discuss tangible solutions with producer Amy Ziering, assistant dean Angela Exson, director Stanford Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA), and Stanford Title IX coordinator Catherine Criswell Spear. Many of the questions were not easy to tackle. Several confronted university protocol for reporting and adjudication of sexual assaults.

This event was a catalyst for many in the audience. Since the screening, campus student groups and organizations have requested further screenings of “The Hunting Ground” for their peers. Screenings will be planned for the start of the next academic year, to educate incoming and returning students during the Red Zone. 

A university-wide response

In May 2014, Provost John Etchemendy announced the creation of a student-faculty-staff task force to recommend ways to enhance Stanford's educational efforts around sexual assault, to improve support for those who have experienced sexual violence and to improve its policies and disciplinary processes for reported cases of sexual assault. Shortly before the on-campus screening of The Hunting Ground, and in time for Sexual Assault Awareness month in April, Provost Etchemendy published his statement based on the released recommendations published by the task force. One key recommendation: that expulsion be the "expected" sanction when a student is found responsible for sexual assault by a unanimous panel of reviewers.

Taking action

To tackle the issue of sexual assault, communities will have to work together to change the culture. There are also meaningful actions each individual can take:

  • Educate yourself about what is happening within your own community.
  • Educate your peers.
  • Be an upstander: someone who debunks rape myths, considers and actively challenges the negative implications of social pressure and steps in and takes action.
  • Join the “Stanford, It’s On Us” Facebook page to keep up-to-date with the campus conversation.

A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.