Annie Clark: Watching "The Hunting Ground" is not going to end violence, but awareness helps
To tackle campus sexual assault, we must support survivors and advocate for reform
Editor’s Note: Annie E. Clark is the executive director of End Rape on Campus and is featured in the documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” which airs on Sunday, November 22, 2015, at 8 p.m. EST on CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
In 2013, a riveting documentary about the epidemic of rape in the military, “The Invisible War,” prompted a national debate about institutionalized responses to sexual violence. As the storm surrounding sexual assault in the military intensified, director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering started bringing their film to college campuses. Little did they know that institutional betrayal and systemic cover-up was also occurring on campuses.
Dozens of students wrote emails to Dick and Ziering, sharing that what they witnessed on screen paralleled their realities as rape survivors in college. One student, who is a friend of Andrea Pino, co-founder of the organization End Rape on Campus and also featured in the “Hunting Ground,” told Dick about the federal Title IX complaint that had just been filed against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for mishandling sexual assault cases.
Rape was happening at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, she told Dick. And just like in the military, the university knew and wasn’t doing enough to prevent sexual violence.
The next day, the director called Andrea to ask her if she was interested in participating in a potential project about campus sexual violence. It’s been almost three years since that initial conversation.
I never imagined that our stories would be told so publicly, and that students across the country would coalesce into a grassroots movement that is now demanding new policies locally and federally.
Sexual and gender-based violence is a topic of national conversation, and in addition to End Rape on Campus, groups such as SAFER, Know Your IX, Carry That Weight, and Callisto are collectively responsible for headlines that call out campuses who mishandle complaints of sexual violence.
Andrea and I, along with other student activists, started End Rape On Campus, because we saw a troubling gap in the movement to end gender-based violence. We knew that to tackle campus sexual assault, we must support survivors, invest in preventative educational initiatives, and advocate for meaningful policy reform.
Since its founding in 2013, EROC has reached over 5,000 students, aided hundreds of survivors, assisted in the filings of Title IX complaints against 30 of the colleges under investigation, reframed through interviews and media trainings campus rape as a national epidemic, and successfully advocated for legislative change on the federal and state levels, including California’s groundbreaking “Yes Means Yes” law. We are watching culture shift, but it isn’t moving swiftly enough.
It is unacceptable that this responsibility has fallen on the backs of 18- and 19-year-olds who have had to publicly stand up to their institutions for violating federal law. And it is not the responsibly of those most affected – women of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students – to educate the nation on this topic. We need allies. We need you. We need parents, friends, families, and entire communities to face the violence that is being perpetrated on our campuses.
Watching “The Hunting Ground” is not going to end violence, but education and awareness are necessary steps. This film and this issue isn’t about one survivor, and the schools in “The Hunting Ground” are not the only schools with a problem. Schools that are publicly “called out” only represent a microcosm of the situation at hand.
We need leadership from our college presidents, not reactionary task forces and external public relations statements. Presidents will not address this unpopular issue without pressure from alumni, students, and prospective students. I implore you to watch the film, educate yourself about Title IX and safe campuses– task yourself to ask the hard questions.
We owe activists who came before us for giving us the language to talk about this topic, and while I will pass the torch of knowledge to my niece and nephew, I will not stand idly by as another generation attends college with a preconceived notion that institutionalized sexism and racism are accepted.
Not being part of the problem is not enough, we need folks to be part of the solution, and everyone can do something starting today.