In a world where talk of rape and sexual assault practically has a numbing effect on others, I was recently surprised by the rush of emotions I was able to feel when hearing about the topic in a new light.
Last Monday, I attended a screening of the documentary The Hunting Ground at JMU’s Grafton-Stovall Theater. It was put on by the WRTC and Justice Studies departments to raise awareness about sexual violence. The film is about two University of North Carolina students and their journey to change the stigma and action surrounding sexual assault on their campus and beyond. I went in not expecting to hear anything new about rape and sexual assault. But I found myself shocked at a lot of points throughout the film.
The film covered a lot of ground, touching on topics such as sexual assault various in areas, including both Greek life and athletics. Unsurprisingly, the reasons for these institutions not taking action on cases of sexual assault revolved around money and status. These universities were either avoiding lawsuits, a decrease in potential students because of its reputation, or losing their best athletes and sacrificing their sports donations. Many school administrators, both current and former, were featured in the documentary and somewhat seemed to be justifying their actions, as well as those of their respective institutions.
Although it is mostly believed that rape and sexual assault only happens to women, this is not true. While the documentary shared a lot of stories from women, it also featured stories from men who were victims of rape.
I have always heard about rape stories and how victims don’t normally find justice, but this film really put it into perspective for me. I was shocked at the stories I heard from victims and the numbers I was seeing in terms of statistics. One of the most appalling segments of the film was when it showed how many accounts of rape and sexual assault had been reported at a number of schools during a period of time and, in turn, how many expulsions had been made because of these reports. The difference in numbers between the reports and the expulsions were truly disgusting. UVA’s numbers really stood out to me: with their reported cases of sexual assault in the hundreds, their number of expulsions was at one. However, their expulsion rate for honor code violations was also revealed and it was in the hundreds.
What is most unsettling to me with the topic of sexual violence is people’s reluctance to do anything about it. Whether it’s administrators who are trying to uphold their school’s “integrity” or fellow students who are afraid of what others will think, it is really disappointing at how many people are afraid to take a stand. Where is the humanity in people? When even the authorities attempt to sweep these cases under the rug, who is there to turn to for safety? The film really goes to show how money and power hungry people really are.
I highly recommend that everyone watch this film, whether you have been affected by sexual violence or not. We need to expand the discussion on sexual assault and rape culture and figure out what we can do about it. I am glad that JMU showed this documentary in its attempt to raise awareness and change our attitudes towards this topic. To get a different perspective on the film, I also recommend reading fellow blogger Casper’s post from last week.
If for any reason you feel the need to talk to someone about sexual assault, whether you have been directly or indirectly affected by it, please don’t hesitate to contact CARE or the Counseling Center.