Why I'm Excited About "The Hunting Ground"

Sexual violence is a social problem that is prevalent in South Carolina (our rate of sexual assault is 25% higher than the national average), but in many ways is invisible compared to other social issues we face.  While it may be easier to recognize someone deprived of food and nutrition, the emotional scars left on someone who has survived sexual assault may be buried beneath the surface.  The many colleges and universities located in the Midlands give our community a large student population—and unfortunately, this population faces one of the highest rates of sexual violence. It’s estimated that over 5% of college women are raped each year, and up to one in four female college students will survive rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Only 5% of these women will report their assault to law enforcement, and rates of sexual violence among college women appear to be increasing rather than decreasing.

In recent years, sexual assault has become a forefront topic of conversation and debate, gaining national attention as more  survivors feel safe to come forward with their stories.  An estimated 5.6 million women in the US have been sexually assaulted after being given or while incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, and this type of sexual assault is nine times more common among college women than the general population.  Women have made leaps and bounds to excel in college beside their male peers, and one night of disinhibition should not be the invitation to violate them. Most of our nation agrees that sexual assault and abuse should not be tolerated, but misconceptions about the prevalence of sexual assault and outdated views lead to “victim blaming” and “slut shaming” out of ignorance becoming common practice.  Shaming women into taking blame for another person’s choice to assault them frequently sounds like “did you see how she was dressed?” “She was asking for it wearing such a short skirt” or “She wanted to do it or else she wouldn’t have gotten so drunk.”  These remarks are hateful and cruel: they not only make survivors believe they are to blame for the assault when they are not, they may also have a negative impact on the survivor’s experiences on campus and their academic success. 

As women comprise a greater proportion of college students (today, 57% of undergraduate students are female), the importance of ensuring equal access to education has only increased. What is now known as Title IX was constructed under President Nixon as the Educational Amendments of 1972, and since that time the implementation of this bill has affected not only women’s ability to play sports in higher education, but also many other factors of women’s admittance and educational experience.  It is no longer legal for universities to reject women from admittance to the school or other forms of academic participation based on their gender, marital status, or choice to become pregnant or have children (all of which were legal and common before Title IX’s implementation in the 1970’s). 

Today, it is Title IX’s relation to sexual assault and harassment on campus that receives the most attention. Sexual harassment is any “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” that may include "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”  It’s considered relevant to Title IX because it is  tremendously disruptive emotionally and “interferes with a student’s access to educational opportunities.”  Although many of Title IX’s statues have become commonplace and need little enforcement in the present day, sexual harassment stubbornly clings in 2015.  Eight in ten students experience sexual harassment at some point during their college careers, and women are more likely to experience it than men are.  Women are also more likely to report that the sexual harassment they experienced kept them from attending classes – affecting their class performance and potentially jeopardizing their degree attainment. 

Title IX is not the only law related to sexual violence on campus and among students: a response to campus sexual assault was seen in 1990 with the passage of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act, which mandated all universities with federally funded financial aid disclose information on crime that has happened on or near their campuses.  Since its induction, 14 universities and colleges have been found in violation of this act and fined up to $35,000 per violation.  Since the average annual cost of a private non-profit college was just over $37,000 in 2012, this would mean that the maximum fine may only be the equivalent of one year’s payments from the student whose rights they violated.  This begs the question, is there a dollar amount that can be placed on the detrimental experience that a survivor of rape has to live with?  There shouldn’t be.

Join the Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands on April 28th to view “The Hunting Ground” at the Nickelodeon Theatre on Main Street in Columbia.  This documentary film released in 2015 discusses the prevalence of rape on college campuses and interviews women on their own sexual assault experience on their college campuses that were supposed to be keeping them safe.  This documentary was highly praised in its release at the Sundance Film Festival as shedding necessary light on assault while giving survivors a voice.  After the film, we will be taking some time to speak with the audience about your feelings and beliefs regarding this pressing social subject.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Lindsey Norton

Lindsey Norton is a student at the University of South Carolina and volunteers in the office of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. She is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in public health and plans to graduate in May of this year. After graduation, she plans to continue to work in the non-profit field and attend graduate school. Her blog is the second in a short series that will accompany today's release of The Hunting Ground at the Nickelodeon.