Advocates: Making The Hunting Ground a Haven

Logo courtesy of Margot Young
Logo courtesy of Margot Young

By Rebecca Boorstin

Staff Reporter

       Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, trauma, mental illness.

       On Wed., Oct. 28, students and faculty from Pitzer and the other Claremont Colleges filed into Benson Auditorium for a public screening of The Hunting Ground, an acclaimed documentary about sexual assault crimes on college campuses that was released earlier this year.

       Pitzer junior Jordan Jenkins, had suggested that the film be shown on campus and brought the idea to the Pitzer Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, who held the screening. Pitzer Activities Committee and Feminist Coalition also helped fund the event.

       “While the Pitzer community already tends to be educated and willing to take in these facts, this documentary presents them in a way that’s tangible for a more general public,” Jenkins said. “And these are conversations we need to be having.”

       The Hunting Ground opens with candid videos of students joyfully receiving acceptance letters to their dream universities, and ends with survivors graduating from these idealized institutions that have since betrayed their trust, shaken off their pleas for help, and silenced their sufferings. The entire documentary, for the most part, is a compilation of interviews with survivors of sexual assault, their families, and faculty and administrative members from their universities. The film seeks to expose administrative and federal flaws in the justice systems surrounding these institutions.

       The film centers around two former students from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. After being sexually assaulted, coming forward to their administrations and being denied resources or assistance, and in one case, having their assault compared to a “football game” by faculty, they reached out to more survivors at UNC and, subsequently, other universities. They have since sought to create a supportive network for survivors, change legislation and spread awareness of sexual assault on college campuses and the continuation of administrative wrongdoings that occur after the incidents.

       The film details many consequences that survivors face, especially those who have reported their attacker. “Victim blaming,” the act of indicating that the assault was the fault of or in the control of the survivor, was a prominent example. “Were you drinking?” “What were you wearing?” “Why didn’t you fight them off?” “Was sex part of your relationship?” were just some of the interrogative questions that survivors were asked by their trusted adult figures once coming forward with their assault.

       Mental illness was another major common-thread matter that survivors struggled with. Throughout the film, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and in some cases even suicide were heartbreakingly disclosed by survivors and their families. Survivors who reported their attackers also dealt with harassment and threats from fellow students, and in some cases, even their attackers, that resulted in their withdrawal from their dream institutions.

       The movie also showed many statistics surrounding the issue, including incidence of assault on campuses (more than 16 percent of women will be assaulted while in college) administrative and federal actions, (45 percent of colleges reported zero cases of sexual assault in the past year) and perpetrators’ patterns (on average, an attacker will repeat assault six more times). Audience members gasped, disbelievingly scoffed, and some moved to tears in response to these numbers.

       Because of the film’s emotional and potentially triggering content, several of Pitzer Advocates were seated in the back of the auditorium in case a student wanted to talk or needed emotional support during the film. Upon the film’s conclusion, they also held a discussion to further converse about the movie and issues it details, as well as to introduce their group and goals on campus.

       Pitzer Advocates for Survival of Sexual Assault is a student-run resource for students in need of support after incidents of sexually violence crimes. The group is relatively new on campus, but has been in the making for four semesters now.

       “I started advocates with several other students because it became clear to me very quickly in my time at Pitzer that a whole portion of the student body was being isolated, blamed, and disbelieved related to being victimized by our peers,” senior Advocate KC Chaviano said.

       “I saw a message about it (Advocates) in student talk and realized it was incredibly important,” junior Advocate Sachi Watase said.“This issue is everywhere.”

       Along with directly aiding survivors, Advocates intend to raise issues of awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. During the post-screening discussion, students sought and suggested opportunities to educate students and assist survivors on campus. Teal Dot Bystander Training, Callisto, a confidential sexual assault reporting system, and Advocacy training were examples brought up as ways to empower survivors and continue the discussion of college centered sexual assaults.

       Several weaknesses and concerns about The Hunting Ground were addressed in the discussion as well, such as a lack of attention on partner abuse, few survivors of color and of the LGBT community. Also, as the film’s demographic emphasized large universities with omnipresent sports culture and Greek life, incidence of sexual violence in the Claremont Colleges may appear in settings vastly different than the population the film focused on.

       However, students generally had positive, emotionally charged responses to the film. “It (the film) should absolutely be required,” first year Jacob Finkelman said. 

       “The people who aren’t going are the people who should be,” Scripps first year Callie Walsh said.

       So what can Pitzer and the other Claremont College communities do to keep the discussion going and keep those who don’t attend these educational events in the loop?

       “Lead by example. If Pitzer students take it upon themselves to understand how they can improve consent culture within their own lives, call out rape culture when they see it, and lead by example for their peers, I genuinely believe we could eliminate a significant amount of sexual assault in our community,” Chaviano said.

       Pitzer Advocates’ warm line debuts this Halloween weekend, and can be reached at (909)-448-0123 Thursdays through Sunday, from 8pm to 12 noon the following day. They also have a Safe Drive program where students who feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or alone at a party can get a safe ride back to their dorm room. However, the group emphasizes that they can be approached by any means of communication, whether in person, over email, Facebook, etc.

       “We are here,” Watase said. “And we are ready to help.”

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