I feel heavy, depressed and hopeless. I am writing this upon return of watching the documentary, The Hunting Ground. The Hunting Ground is a film about sexual assault on college campuses in the United States. The feeling of heaviness that I feel is one of dread and fury. The story that was told is not just an isolated incident that takes place every once in a while at UNC. In fact, it happens everywhere. I have a sister, a girlfriend, and so many other friends that are at risk of this kind of catastrophe. To imagine something like this happening to them is unfathomable. I want to put on a mask, act like a superhero and beat the shit out of anybody who dares to even consider sexually assaulting someone. I know that actions such as those would yield no positive results, but I say that to try to explain how I am feeling. I am angry, sad and afraid.
Obviously, I am a huge advocate for this film. It provides an in depth explanation of the condition of sexual assault on college campuses. There are numerous women interviewed who tell their story about their experience being sexually assaulted. The film also presents a well investigated argument about how college administrations intentionally silence the victims. The administration silences the victims to protect the university’s reputation and financial security. Furthermore, the film does a good job at showing the connection between the administration and the fraternities/sports teams and how that prestigious relationship reinforces the culture of sexual assault that is pandemic across every college campus in the United States.
Every story that is shared in the film is important to listen to. There are many stories that I will not comment upon because I cannot tell them the way that those victims did. These stories need to be heard from their mouth.
Since I am not going to attempt to retell the stories of these victims, I will analyze certain cases that are presented in the film that speak to the corrupt power structures that uphold a culture of sexual assault. The first case is of Jameis Winston. Jameis Winston is a current quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was a quarterback for Florida State University and won the Heisman trophy in 2013. The movie shows a young woman named Erica Kinsman who was violently raped by Winston. When Erica tried coming forward about the incident, she was ignored by a large swath of people. The administration, the local police department and the majority of the student body at FSU didn’t believe her. Winston was so adored by these people that the words of Erica Kinsman had no power. Moreover, the administration needed Winston because his football abilities gave the football team good ratings and thus, the college was able to acquire more money. It would be heretical to expel him.
There was one particular scene about the Winston case that intrigued me. The scene was a video clip of the sports commentator, Stephen A. Smith, speaking. Smith was talking about the Winston rape accusation and was basically saying that the accusation wasn’t valid and shouldn’t be believed. Smith says it wasn’t valid because the accusation came out at about the same time that FSU won the BCS and became national champions for NCAA DI football. What Smith was insinuating was that Erica Kinsman came out with this accusation because she wanted to dethrone Winston at the same time when he was crowned king.
I am not arguing that Stephen A. Smith is a bad person and that he celebrates sexual assault. The problem found here is that he didn’t believe Kinsman! Why would Kinsman go to such lengths to accuse Winston if she didn’t have good reason? I can imagine it isn’t easy to plaster your face all around the country, saying, “I was raped by this man.” The fact that Stephen A. Smith didn’t believe her speaks to the power structures that uphold a culture of sexual assault. Millions of people turn on their TV in the morning to listen to Smith and hear his commentary about the night’s previous games. People love Smith and they believe most of the things that he says on TV. Imagine all the people watching ESPN that morning when Smith made those comments about Winston and Kinsman. People believed him. Believing Smith in that circumstance means not believing Kinsman. Not believing Kinsman is the perpetuation of the act of silencing sexual assault victims.
Another discussion presented in the film that I would like to analyze is the situation of fraternities. The movie talked about how a large majority of sexual assaults that are committed on college campuses are done by fraternity brothers and many times, at frat parties. The film shows how there is a culture of sexual violence that permeates the halls of some fraternities. The film also shows how the administration of many colleges deal with sexual assaults within fraternities very poorly. This is because the college needs the fraternities a lot more than the fraternities need the college. Most colleges need donations from alumni. Many wealthy alumni who give to these universities were once members of those fraternities. If colleges were to either denounce the fraternity or get rid of it altogether, those alumni would pull their donations from the university. Moreover, many fraternity alumni are powerful CEO’s or politicians in Congress. They have incredible influence and they will do anything to ensure that their treasured fraternity is perceived as a light on a hill. As a result, a sexual assault report means very little to these people.
I tell these stories to show how the problem is not just the predators who are getting women drunk at frat paternities. The problem is also the college administrations, the politicians in Congress and the sports commentators. These sexual assault cases are not isolated incidents, they are all interrelated. Some of the people in the movie called these issues an “epidemic.” That is a very appropriate word choice and this epidemic exists on all levels of society.
Honestly, I don’t know if this writing had any impact. For me, this writing is an attempt to make sense of what I am feeling after watching this film. Obviously, some of the things that I am feeling cannot be explained or told. Some of the things that I feel only exist within the realm of emotion and internal thought. I feel hopeless and helpless, especially because of the possibility that sexual assault could happen to individuals who are close to me and who I love with everything I have. I want to leave those who are reading this with words of hope and encouragement, but I don’t have many to offer. All I can ask you to do is to watch The Hunting Ground and to raise awareness. Find resources and do what you can to combat this because nobody should have to live in fear of being sexually assaulted.
If you have a desire to learn about how the Jameis Winston case concluded, read this article: http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/25/us/florida-state-fsu-settles-jameis-winston-rape-lawsuit/.
Also, I highly recommend watching this video called “Till It Happens To You” by Lady Gaga. It is a song that Lady Gaga wrote and performed for the film. The link is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmWBrN7QV6Y.