The Hunting Ground


I knew this one would be tough to watch, and it was. First it shows students all excited about their college acceptances (nobody opened a letter; all were by e-mail). Then it shows students being dropped off by their parents, finally on their own. Then it shows students tearfully describing how they were raped while they were there, and how the University did little or nothing to support them; “stonewalling” them because it's bad publicity to pursue their cases. Finally, two of the survivors together figure out how to put pressure on the universities: file a Title IX complaint against them, which threatens federal funding. Now they've got some people's attention.
Of course, it's an issue that everybody knows is happening, but nobody knows quite what to do about it. Even the way one describes the volatile ingredients itself reveals a bias. Is it relevant that the victim had been drinking? What she was wearing? Had she been taking drugs? Had she been sexually active previously? Had she been sexually active previously with the accused? (These were all summarily dismissed as “blaming the victim.”) Yes, certainly, “No” means “No.” But is it ever not that simple?
Fraternities are singled out as hotbeds, as it were, for this sort of activity. And yes, female college students should no doubt be sternly warned about the dangers of going to frat parties where there is abundant drinking, no adult supervision, and proximate access to private rooms. But the makers of this movie point out the great discrepancy in the number of cases reported, and the number of expulsions as a result. There is only one interview with an admitted perpetrator, whose face was partially obscured, who was able to generate some remorse, but otherwise, this was really about the victims putting a name and face to their horrific personal narratives. But all the untested allegations are not without controversy.
Prominent in the story line are the accusations alleging that the rapist was Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State, who was picked number one in the NFL draft, and is now the quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The problem is that since this documentary has been released, the “Washington Examiner” reports that someone associated with its production has been editing Wikipedia to conform to their version of events. Further, the victim identifying herself as a student at Harvard Law School accused another student at the school, who has subsequently been identified, and, not surprisingly, whose version of events differs greatly from the accused, but of course that part is not pursued in this “documentary.”
OK, so this is a tricky business all around. Sadly, date rape happens on college campuses. But the statistics thrown around here are really, really, difficult to verify. Definitely, awareness needs to be raised. Certainly, convictions need to be pursued for the guilty. And victims need to have the courage to come forward, and receive support for possible PTSD resulting from the nightmarish experience. But the “documentarians” need to be held accountable, also, for what they present as facts. And any Oscar attention will only underscore that point.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Do you know anyone who has been victimized by sexual assault? What was the aftermath?
  2. How does a victim prove it wasn't consensual? How does an accused prove it was?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas