The new film "The Hunting Ground" exposes the horrifying trend and how colleges are covering it up.
For the record, every single sexual encounter I had in college was by choice. You'd think that statement would not be a bold one or ... a lucky one. But it is.
And while the current statistics alone are staggering — according to the website One In Four, one in four women will be sexually assaulted during her college experience; three percent of college men experience rape or an attempted rape during their college career.
What's even more staggering are the lengths colleges and universities go to cover up these sexual assault crimes.
The Hunting Ground, a new film by Academy Award nominated documentarians Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, exposes not only the sexual crimes being committed every 21 hours on college campuses across the country, but also the unconscionable cover ups that are now being investigated by The Department of Education at over 90 colleges nationwide, as well as the growing grassroots wave of student-led activism against such crimes.
While it's widely known that sexual assault is a heinous crime that lives on in its victims' psyches for decades, what's been underreported is how the pervasiveness of coverups within college communities deepens that damage for its victims. What's all the more psychologically scarring — not to mention ethically unacceptable — is the unwillingness of administrative officials to hold the actual assailants responsible for their actions.
Adding insult to injury is the harsh reality — as The Hunting Ground reveals — that these same schools do little to nothing to educate the public at large about these perpetrators, especially the repeat offenders who continue their college careers, unscathed and on the prowl.
What are the trickle down effects of such societal negligence? Victims become increasingly isolated, ignored, outraged and sometimes suicidal.
An empowered example of such outrage comes from Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz, who gained notoriety in 2014 as "Mattress Girl" after she began hauling her dorm mattress around campus every day as a visual protest against her rapist, who school administrators never charged, even after two other women filed sexual assault claims against him.
One of the most heartbreaking stories featured in The Hunting Ground comes from an interview with Tom Seeberg, whose daughter Lizzy committed suicide in the aftermath of being sexually assaulted by Notre Dame football player Prince Shembo, who now plays for the Atlanta Falcons.
While sexual assault on college campuses isn't a new topic, the timeliness of The Hunting Ground will hopefully make it a trending one. Whether you're a parent whose kid(s) will eventually be in college, have college-aged kids, or are simply watching this epidemic from the sidelines, two things are clear:
- This is not something we need to simply "educate our girls" about.
- None of us can afford to sit back in silence.
Just as the old adage "it takes a village" applies to raising children, it also applies to seeing and stopping sexual assault on college campuses, forcing school administrators to take these charges more seriously, and legislating against those universities who refuse to act.
U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand are taking a stand in Washington, backing legislation that would require schools to make public the result of anonymous surveys concerning assaults and would impose significant financial burdens on universities that fail to comply with the law's requirements.
- RECOGNIZE that non-consensual sex is sexual assault.
- IDENTIFY situations in which sexual assault may occur.
- INTERVENE in situations where consent has not or cannot be given.
- CREATE an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors receive support.
I've joined the pledge, and I hope you will, too. And still, there's more we can do to promote awareness and activism.
Understanding The Predatory Personality
While there is no convenient and/or easy way to spot a sexual predator, there are some startling statistics about who's more likely to commit such crimes on college campuses. A study conducted in 2007 found that men who belonged to a fraternity were three times more likely to commit sexual assault than other college men. Another study found that athletes commit one in three college sexual assaults.
The "Group Think" Of Athletics And Frat Life
A cross-cultural survey of men found that "group think" and organizational acceptance of sexual aggressiveness made it far more "OK" to commit sexual assault. This may explain why men who are part of an athletic team or fraternity adopt a more predatory persona when it comes to women and sex in general, as well as accepting sexual assault as the norm.
From an early age, athletes are commonly rewarded for being overly aggressive in their chosen field of sport. And while there is no direct link between how on-field aggression affects an athlete's behavior off the field, incidents caught on video, like Ray Rice knocking his wife unconscious in an elevator, make you wonder about the direct implications.
Astonishingly, while male student-athletes make up just three percent of a college campus population, they account for 19 percent of sexual assaults and 35 percent of domestic assaults on college campuses. That's telling on its own.
Couple this natural tendency with the pervasive party atmosphere of fraternity life and you find yourself with a dangerous cocktail where young women are often in unchaperoned environments, impaired by alcohol and/or drugs, and men prey on these impairments.
And while hooking up is often considered a rite of passage among college coeds, sexual assault is something completely different. Hookups are consensual. Sexual assault is not.
Sexual Assault Expected
As showcased in The Hunting Ground, one fraternity in particular — SAE or Sigma Alpha Epsilon — is the fraternity more commonly referred to among college-aged women as Sexual Assault Expected. Startlingly, the term is so frequently associated that it's made its way into the Urban Dictionary.
SAE made headlines just this week with this video, featuring fraternity members chanting racist lyrics.
Another particularly chilling moment captured in The Hunting Ground featured droves of college-aged men standing outside a female freshman dorm after dark, all chanting/taunting, "No means yes. Yes means anal."
This is no rite of passage. This is a predatory prediction that we must stop. How? By raising our boys to grow up as men who are more thoughtful and compassionate. By raising our girls to speak their minds, regardless of what authorities may say. And to urge institutions and legislators to take this issue seriously.
Most importantly, to celebrate victims turned activists like Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who The Hunting Ground features, and are the co-founders of End Rape on Campus, an organization speaking up for college women who are victims, as well as standing up to the federal government, urging them to investigate colleges' failings when it comes to rape cases.
If you do nothing else to champion the rights of victims, please go see The Hunting Ground or visit thehuntinggroundfilm.com.