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Arts and Entertainment

Why Everyone Needs To Watch 'The Hunting Ground,' An Exposé On Campus Rape Culture

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As heart-wrenching and infuriating it is to watch The Hunting Ground, a chilling exposé on campus rape culture, it's an important and very necessary one.

It's comes at a time when this topic is a hot-button issue. Last September, President Barack Obama announced his "It's On Us" campaign, a program that strives to put an end to sexual assaults on campus, and Rolling Stone's controversial story on an alleged rape at the University of Virginia dropped last November.

You might be aware that campus rape is a problem, but the numbers offered up by The Hunting Ground are startling. One of the statistics is that over the next year, over 100,000 women will be sexually assaulted on U.S. college campuses. Almost as horrifying as the sheer volume of rapes themselves is what happens next: the documentary posits that school administrators are failing our students, promising them a safe haven for academic life, but then turning their backs when they report rapes. Colleges seem more preoccupied with their sexual assault statistics than the sexual assault victims themselves. Colleges worried about their brand and enrollment numbers brush these sexual assaults under the rug and protect offenders in the process.

The film, helmed by director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering (the duo behind Invisible War, a documentary on sexual assaults in the U.S. military), tells the story of these statistics by spotlighting individual horror stories from campus rape survivors.

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In the first few moments of The Hunting Ground, we see incoming freshmen overjoyed when they receive their college acceptance letters. It only makes it that much more heartbreaking when a long list of students recount the harrowing moments when they were sexually assaulted (some drugged, some gang-raped, one whose head was banged against a bathroom sink). The documentary also points out that it's not only women who are getting raped, but men as well, and they all bravely tell their stories and reveal the devastating aftermath of rape.

However, it's the school administrators who are asking the survivors to keep their sexual assaults quiet and away from police, the documentary argues. If enduring a sexual assault isn't already horrible enough, these survivors describe the insensitive victim-blaming they have to go through after their ordeals with questions like, "What were you wearing when it happened?" or "Why didn't you fight back?"

The Hunting Ground addresses how fraternity members and sports stars at the colleges get away with much more—some of them even being repeat predators—since funding for the schools is dependent on these groups. Sexual assault predators on campuses are rarely expelled and they are usually given no more than a slap on the wrist. One especially incendiary subject is Florida State University star quarterback and 2015 NFL draft pick Jameis Winston. His alleged rape victim details the ordeal she went through and the lack of support she received from Florida State University as well as the state of Florida.

The documentary tries to cover all aspects of the complicated issue of rape culture on campus, but in doing so, it jumps all over the place on what is an unwieldy topic. The Hunting Ground is a call to action: it encourages parents, teachers, students and alumni to pressure administrators to crack down on rapists who thrive on their campuses. In real-time, we get to follow University of North Carolina rape survivors and activists, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who have been traveling around the country teaching other students at different campuses how to file a Title IX complaint against their colleges, which bans colleges from receiving federal funding if there is gender discrimination at the schools.

By the end of the film, 55 colleges are being investigated for violating Title IX, and The Hunting Ground puts all the schools on blast—from Harvard to Florida State University and Occidental College—in an attempt to publicly shame them into action. If this documentary can do something big, it's that it can make people feel outraged enough to take action.

'The Hunting Ground' is open in theaters in Los Angeles and New York.