Their stories are all different, the young women who appear in The Hunting Ground to recount their experiences of being raped by fellow students on their college campuses. The details and circumstances vary. One, a virgin, was dragged into a bathroom at a nightclub. Another was taken by two boys. Yet another made the mistake of taking her eye off her drink, then woke up groggy and confused inside a dorm room, a male student on top of her.
But one thing nearly all the anecdotes in The Hunting Ground have in common is their resolution: A lack of justice. Some of the girls never reported their assault, fearful of reprisals or being cast out as a pariah. Those who did were rewarded with baffling responses by their school’s administrators, who told them maybe they shouldn’t drink or wear short skirts and that they should probably keep their stories to themselves, because they were probably to blame for the rape by their behavior. Even when the perpetrators were punished, they got off with astonishingly light sentences — a $75 fine and a one-day suspension in one case, expulsion followed by readmittance the following semester in another. Often, the schools did absolutely nothing.
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Writer-director Kirby Dick, who previously explored the same subject within the U.S. military in the Oscar-nominated The Invisible War, constantly throws out numbers and percentages, all carefully referenced with at least two sources (often more), that give the viewer a sense of the enormity of the epidemic. Sixteen to 20 percent of all undergrad women are sexually assaulted (that’s almost one out of five, a chilling statistic). Eighty-eight percent of them never tell anyone. Less than 8 percent of male students commit 90 percent of the rapes, most of them repeat offenders who keep on doing it because they know the school will try to pretend like nothing happened.
The Hunting Ground, which was shot over a period of several years, finds a narrative spine in the story of two rape victims: Andrea Pino, a Cuban American from Miami, and Annie E. Clark, students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who wound up launching their own grassroots investigation into the epidemic. Eventually, they began an organization that allowed other women to file a claim against their schools, demanding that administrations be held accountable or at least act to correct the situation.
Only one accused rapist, his face blurred on screen, is interviewed about what he did, and he expresses regret but little else to illuminate why young men like him do what they do. Most damning of all is the total absence of interviews with officials from the multitude of schools where rape was reported — a title card informs us they all declined — most notably Florida State University, where Erica Kinsman filed charges against quarterback and future Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston, only to be driven out of school and Tallahassee for her efforts.
The Hunting Ground argues that the fraternity system may be a big contributor to this sort of crime, and the film also suggests that as long as sports programs continue to bring in so much revenue from fans and alumni, no one will ever dare derail a winning season or a star player’s meteoric rise over the complaints of one single, distraught, faceless female student. Why try to fix what isn’t broken, right?
Writer-director: Kirby Dick.
Producer: Amy Ziering.
A Radius-TWC release. Running time: 90 minutes. Graphic verbal descriptions of rape, strong language. In Miami-Dade only: Aventura.