Can it really be true that one female college student in five gets raped or sexually assaulted on campus by the time she graduates? That shocking statistic has been appearing everywhere of late, including on the lips of President Obama, and some pundits have been questioning its veracity. But if the reality is even remotely close to that figure, it’s an unacceptable state of affairs in a so-called civilized society, and sending our daughters off to college has become a somewhat terrifying rite of passage when it should be one filled with pride, intellectual curiosity and adventure.
A major part of this hot-button controversy is the belief that some college administrators are burying the assault statistics on their own campuses. Critics say that far too many offenders are let off with a slap on the wrist to return to classes, and far too many whistle-blowing victims get blamed, shamed and subjected to retaliation. You can hear about it unfiltered from the mouths of some of the affected women (and even a few men) in Kirby Dick’s documentary film The Hunting Ground, dubbed “a must-watch work of cine-activism” by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis.
The movie uses first-person interviews with many victims of campus sexual assault who had the courage to give up their anonymity, but the central story focuses on Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, who banded together to take action when they discovered that they both had been raped at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since the motivation of higher education officials trying to cover up the problem is primarily financial, it’s an inspired bit of poetic justice that Clark and Pino decided to fight back in the same vein: In 2013 they filed a Title IX complaint against the university with the Department of Education – meaning that UNC could lose federal funding if it doesn’t clean up its act.
“Their voices underscore that publicly talking about rape isn’t just an act of political radicalism, but also a way for survivors to reclaim their lives,” Dargis wrote of the pair of young activists. What with all the furor these days about TV shows and movies that use rape as a convenient plot device without following up with thoughtful examination of its long-term ramifications for the affected characters (I’m lookin’ at you, Dan Weiss and David Benioff), it’s vitally important to hear from people who have had such horrific experiences in real life and used them to fuel positive change.
The Hunting Ground will be shown this weekend at both Upstate Films venues: at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 30 at the Woodstock theater and at 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 31 in Rhinebeck. And both screenings will be followed by an audience discussion with Tara Sanders, upstate New York program director for the organization Exhale to Inhale, which advocates the “grounding practice of yoga” to heal and empower survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Tickets for the screening and talk cost $11 general admission, $9 for seniors and students and $7 for Upstate Films members and kids under age 16. For more information, visit https://upstatefilms.org/special-events.
The Hunting Ground screening/talk with Tara Sanders, Saturday, May 30, 1:30 p.m., Upstate Films Woodstock, 132 Tinker Street, Sunday, May 31, 8 p.m., Upstate Films Rhinebeck, 6415 Montgomery Street, $11/$9/$7; (845) 679-6608, (845) 876-2515, https://upstatefilms.org.