Following on from The Invisible War, his film about the rape epidemic in the U.S. military, documentarian Kirby Dick looks at rape on American college campuses… and The Hunting Ground is almost the same film, and just as enraging. This is not a criticism of Dick as a filmmaker but of our culture, which places the safety of women on a list of things worth worrying about far below such other matters as “institutional pride” and “making a profit.”
Dick talks to women (and a few men) from universities around the U.S whose stories of being attacked are horrifying, but — as almost all of them say — the way their universities did almost nothing when they reported the rapes was even worse. Numerous former professors and administrators explain the many financial incentives universities have to minimize rape on campus, including how student athletes (who commit a disproportiate number of rapes ) are coddled and protected from accusations because sports programs are big business; many of these university employees lost their jobs for speaking out against the standard do-nothing approach to rape on campus. Fraternities are moneymakers for universities, too, we learn, so there’s no motivation to crack down on the likes of Sigma Alpha Epsilon; apparently young women on campuses across the nation know to interpret “SAE” to mean “sexual assault expected.” (Former frat-boy rapists explain onscreen the pride they took in their predatory behavior.)
This isn’t a relentlessly grim film: its central organizing structure is around a group of young women who have taken the fight for justice into their own hands, filing civil-rights lawsuits against universities and speaking out publicly about their experiences in an attempt to shame those with the money, power, and influence who’ve ignored the problem for too long. Still, as with The Invisible War, this is ultimately a portrait in how the world kills women’s passion, enthusiasm, and ambition by not valuing it in the first place. The Hunting Ground opens with teenaged girls screaming with delighted excitement as they learn they’ve been accepted at their dream schools. Some of the rape survivors we meet here are still able to say, even after their universities have let them down so terribly, that they love the school and love the education they’ve gotten. But it’s also perfectly plain that the light has dimmed in many of them.