A new documentary about campus sexual assault features former UNC-Chapel Hill students whose federal complaint prompted significant changes at the university.
The film, called “The Hunting Ground,” tells the stories of women who experienced sexual assault, became activists and gave voice to a national movement. The documentary, which premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, includes stories from a handful of campuses, including Harvard, Notre Dame and Florida State.
But it’s clear that UNC is a major focus of the film. A two-minute trailer shows exterior shots of the university’s Bell Tower, administrative building and library. It shows Tar Heel alumna Annie Clark, who says: “The first few weeks I made some of my best friends, but two of us were sexually assaulted before classes even started.”
Sundance called it “a piercing, monumental exposé” and singled out Clark and another former UNC student, Andrea Pino, as mavericks “among a growing, unstoppable network of young women who will no longer be silent.”
Clark and Pino were not made available by the film publicist for interviews, though they were present for Sundance screenings along with Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has been outspoken about sexual assault in the military.
The new movie is the work of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, Oscar-nominated filmmakers of “The Invisible War,” about rape in the military.
“The Hunting Ground” will open nationally on March 20 and will be broadcast by CNN at a later date, according to the film’s publicist, who said no one from the film could comment.
UNC is among dozens of universities under federal investigation for its reporting of campus crime and its handling of sexual assault cases under the Title IX gender discrimination law. Federal complaints and new guidelines have prompted an overhaul of sexual misconduct policies at many universities, as well as additional training and promises to conduct surveys about sexual violence.
Dartmouth and UVa.
Some are trying to revamp their entire culture. This week, Dartmouth College announced it was banning hard liquor from campus and creating new living communities to discourage risky behavior.
On Friday, the president of the University of Virginia said a series of reports this spring will recommend how to make the campus safer. Faculty have proposed a research institute on violence, inequality and power. The announcements followed public outcry about a Rolling Stone story – now discredited – about a gang rape at UVa., as well as the killing of a student last fall.
Changes have come to the Chapel Hill campus as well. For example, this semester all students are required to participate in online education about sexual assault. As of last week, 70 percent of faculty and staff had completed a similar required training.
Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the university will track participation, and students won’t be allowed to register for future classes or get their diplomas until they complete the training, which takes roughly 45 minutes. Other voluntary face-to-face training sessions are given to smaller groups.
Crisp said he has not seen the film but hopes viewers will understand what’s happened at the university since Clark and Pino first raised concerns.
“I don’t think that we’ve been trying to hide from the fact that the institution has had issues and that we have frankly been engaged for the past few years in tremendous efforts to improve things,” Crisp said. “My only hope is that ... it doesn’t get lost how hard people have been working and how much progress is being made on trying to make this place live up to everybody’s expectations for a safe and healthy and inclusive campus.”
Melinda Manning, a former UNC administrator who joined Clark, Pino and other students in the 2013 federal complaint, also was interviewed for the film. In the movie’s trailer, she charges that universities employed tactics to downplay the problem. Schools discouraged students from taking rape reports to the police to avoid embarrassing public records about assaults, she said.
Manning has not seen the film but said it will continue what has become a lengthy national conversation on the issue.
“As a culture and as a country, I think a lot of things have been building up to this,” she said. “It was getting close to a tipping point.”
She said she hopes the film’s message will spread more widely to high school students, parents, faculty and others who should be more aware of the issue.
“It’s also just bringing awareness to the fact that a lot of colleges have not been doing the right things on this issue for a long time,” Manning said. “That’s not anyone’s fault in particular. I think it’s been a widespread problem. ... Part of the problem is colleges didn’t know what to do.”
The awareness is apparently leading to more reports and, likely, more prosecutions. This week, two former Vanderbilt University football players were convicted in a gang rape case.
Crisp said UNC has seen an increase in students coming forward to report sexual assault, which he expected, given the public attention. Experts contend that rape has long been underreported.
Student victims have a choice of taking a report to the police or to campus authorities, or to both. Universities have internal judicial hearings to determine whether a student is responsible, and that can lead to expulsion. In a court of law, the potential penalties are more severe.
In Durham, police are investigating a Duke University student’s allegation that she was drugged and sexually assaulted at an off-campus party at a house leased by Alpha Delta Phi fraternity on Jan. 8. The student woke in her dorm room in only a T-shirt she didn’t recognize. Torn leggings were by the bed, according to a search warrant.
She went to the emergency room and called police.
Duke spokesman Keith Lawrence said the fraternity was suspended and barred from holding any events. While the police are investigating, Lawrence said Duke is prohibited by federal law from disclosing information about any individual student or the student judicial process.
Manning said students may have a new attitude about reporting sexual violence.
“Talking to a lot of young female students, there’s a sense of ‘I need to take action because I don’t want this to happen to someone else,’ ” she said. “... I think there’s going to be more students going to the police and not just going to the university. All this publicity is probably going to foster some distrust of just taking things to the university system.”