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Guest Post: ‘It Happened Here’: Documenting Rape Culture on College Campuses

Guest Post: 'It Happened Here': Documenting Rape Culture on College Campuses

I’ve been a
documentary filmmaker for over 40 years, and in that span I have crafted film on topics
as diverse as the Barbie doll, the New York Mets, restorative justice, breast
cancer, and people who think they can communicate with the dead.

But my
resume for the last ten years has reflected a singular focus: violence against
women. The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo describes
the use of rape as a weapon of war in that country’s intractable conflict. Tres Mujeres explores
the connection between sexual violence and displacement in Colombia’s civil
war. Sex Crimes Unit is a verite portrait of prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s
Office, the first unit in the country dedicated to rape and sexual violence.

These films
have all been about bringing rape and sexual violence out of the shadows and
using women’s stories to effect change. Sometimes this change begins with the
women themselves. The stories I hear are often being told for the first time, and for many of the characters in my films, the very act of sharing what had
been a deeply painful and shaming experience proved to be incredibly
liberating. For example, Natasha Alexenko, the survivor who narrates her
journey to justice in Sex Crimes Unit,
started a foundation that advocates for the testing of backlogged rape-evidence
kits. And I had the great pleasure of telling the women in the Congo who had
shared their stories with me that The
Greatest Silence
had been instrumental in the United Nations Security
Council’s passing Resolution 1820, which acknowledges the shattering
consequences for a nation when rape is used as a weapon of war.

I hope that
It Happened Here will also catalyze discussion and
change on college campuses, both here and abroad. For our main
characters, telling their stories and confronting their schools was an
enormously empowering experience. And our characters are what give the film its unique and intimate
perspective on this pervasive problem: women like Angie Epifano, one of the
first survivors in the country to publicly denounce how her college, Amherst, treated her when she came forward asking for support and justice; Carolyn,
Kylie and Erica, students at the University of Connecticut, who together
challenged the assumptions of a “rape culture” that would silence them; and
Sarah O’Brien, who, with Angie’s support, brought a first-ever Title lX suit
against Vanderbilt.

If I’ve
learned anything after all these years, it’s that sexual violence is a topic
that people turn away from. It is a subject fraught with misconceptions and
veiled in myths; a crime that is denied, belittled and misunderstood; and an
assault that leaves debilitating scars on its victims, whether in the Congo or
on a college campus.

Our
characters shared with us a great gift, trusting us with their stories and
allowing us to follow their brave journeys out of the shadows in the hopes that
they will inspire others to do the same.

It Happened Here debuts on Pivot TV January 21, 2015, and will be a part of the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign screenings around the country as well as on VOD/Digital later this spring.

Director Lisa F. Jackson has
been making documentary films for over 35 years.
Sex Crimes Unit, her
most recent film, is an unprecedented
verite portrait of prosecutors in
the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
The Greatest Silence: Rape in the
Congo won a Special Jury Prize for Documentaries at the 2008 Sundance Film
Festival and earned 2 Emmy nominations. Jackson also produced and directed
Meeting with
a Killer: One Family’s Journey (2001 Emmy Award nominee) for Court TV; The
Secret Life of Barbie (1999 Emmy Award winner) for ABC News; Addicted and
Why Am I Gay? for HBO’s “America Undercover” series; and Smart Sex
for the MTV series True Life. She studied filmmaking at MIT with Rickey
Leacock. 

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