'The Hunting Ground' Film Considers Effects of Campus Sexual Assaults

Category:  News
Thursday, March 24th, 2016 at 8:24 AM
'The Hunting Ground' Film Considers Effects of Campus Sexual Assaults by Emma Giering
Panelists, above, were moderated by Pablo Reyes-Cruz from the Office of Social Equity.

The Edinboro Film Series recently partnered with Take A Stand Against Sexual Violence — a new campaign that was started in the Fall of 2015 to raise awareness for sexual assault on campus — to bring the documentary “The Hunting Ground” to Edinboro University on March 17.

The discussion portion was moderated by Pablo Reyes-Cruz from the university’s office of social equity. A three person panel consisted of Paul Lukach, executive editor of the Crime Victim Center of Erie, Molly Wolf, associate professor in the social work department with a focus on trauma and crisis research, and Leslie Shaeffer, a university student and campaign manager for Take A Stand Against Sexual Violence on the Edinboro campus.

“Believe it or not, only 5 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses are reported, making sexual assault the most underreported crime in our nation,” Reyes-Cruz began, “the question is what can we do to be more informed and change these statistics?”

The topics discussed were consent, compliance and awareness when it comes to sexual violence. In addition, the panel discussed statistics that many didn’t know. “I’m looking forward to having a very open conversation about this. Please note that if you have questions to ask, you should ask them. We want this to be an open forum,” Reyes-Cruz told the audience.

The discussion started with the topic of consent. “I think that the student and faculty policy handbook does a great job when speaking about consent,” Lukach began. “I’m going to read it straight from the book. It says: ‘sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment and refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person where the person being acted upon is not capable to give consent or incapacitated.’ It also goes on to say that ‘consent is an informed decision made freely and actively by all parties. Conduct will be considered without consent if no parties clear verbal or nonverbal consent is given.’ Consent is required each and every time there is sexual activity. It’s something we all need to be aware of; that it’s an ongoing conversation. Just because something starts and you think you have consent, you need to have verbal and nonverbal commitment from both participating sides,” Lukach concluded.

“There are some interesting quotes in the movie that I don’t want to overlook,” Lukach mentioned. “One of the quotes is from a young man who is obviously part of a fraternity and he’s very angry about people being accused of rape, very angry about some of the things going on at campus and one of the statements he makes is ‘just because she says no and sex happens doesn’t make him a rapist.’” Lukach paused. “Well, guess what. Yes, it does.”

Wolf then weighed in, saying, “What some campuses are doing is a ‘yes means yes’ campaign, meaning only if you get a verbal yes does the person actually consent.” She then asked the audience what they thought. Student Micki Smith weighed in, saying “I feel like consent can be given, but you can have the right to say no at any point during your encounter. Just because something starts, doesn’t mean it has to finish.” Shaeffer lauded Smith for her answer, saying, “I think that also goes on the grounds of no hesitation. If at any point in the encounter you feel like you’re uncomfortable or intoxicated — if you feel hesitant at any point you should pull back. A good friend of mine told me hesitation needs to be spoken about more when dealing with consent.”

Reyes-Cruz then shifted the focus of the panel, asking if anyone would like to speak about how the use of alcohol can impede or blur judgment when it comes to consent.

Wolf eagerly answered. “My take on this is a little different. Did you guys read the Reddit thread where they let the rapists talk for a day,” she asked the audience. Most shook their heads “no”.

Wolf continued, “So on reddit.com they gave it over to people who describe themselves as rapists and I read this one thread, and I think it’s very important to read those accounts because once you read them you start to understand this ‘rape culture’ that’s happening.”

Wolf then divulged the disturbing mindset of rapists. “One of the posts that stood out to me in particular was this one guy who said when he was in college, he would try to find a girl that he perceived as having low self-esteem. He would invite her to his room and he would be sure there was something to drink so that he had an alibi after. And then he would put a blanket over them and put on a movie; at that point he said he just put his hand under the blanket and on her thigh. He concluded by saying if she tensed up, he knew it was going to be a good rape. He knew it would be nonconsensual. If she went along with it? It would just be boring, old, consensual sex.”

The room was stunned silent.

“To me, it seems drugs and alcohol are used in such a way to make sure the perpetrator has an alibi. It’s very difficult in a trial to get the jury to convict a rapist when the victim drinks,” said Wolf.

Lukach added, “The good thing is that on most campuses, if you report a sexual assault, your prior charges will be dropped, there’s amnesty. This means that if you feel you were sexually assaulted, you should feel safe reporting the incident without fear of disciplinary action for drug or alcohol use.”

Students at Edinboro have recently been complaining about an email sent by Reyes- Cruz urging students to take the Title IX test.

“Why do I have to take it,” Reyes-Cruz stated students had been asking, “I’ve never assaulted anyone.” The answer after this panel seems fairly straight forward: in order to be an advocate you need to understand the issues at large and how to recognize when something is unlawful.

The viewing of “The Hunting Ground” that followed the panel only reaffirmed the advice the panelists had given moments earlier. The documentary was bold, using grueling statistics to pack an even harder punch.

Statistics presented included, “1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college,” or “a multitude of national and individual school studies over the past 15 years have come to the universal conclusion that approximately 20 percent of female students will be sexually assaulted during their time at college.”

All of this research is contrasted with multiple universities’ failure to report or take serious the incidents. A portion of the film was dedicated to comparing reporting to expulsions. In the case of Harvard, from 2009-2013, Harvard College saw 135 cases of reported sexual assault, but only 10 expulsions.

Multiple audience members were moved to tears before the film was even at its midway point, while evidence was seemingly endless across the near 120 minute experience. “The Hunting Ground” is currently streaming on Netflix.

Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator.

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