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Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering on Exposing the Horrifying Campus Rape Epidemic in ‘The Hunting Ground’

Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering on Exposing the Horrifying Campus Rape Epidemic in 'The Hunting Ground'

The Hunting Ground” is a shocking new documentary from director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, the same pair behind Oscar-nominated “The Invisible War,” a film that focused on the prevalence of violent sexual assault within the U.S. military. Dick and Ziering have followed their narrative one step further in “The Hunting Ground,” now tracking the endless incidences of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses. Combing verité footage and first-person testimonies, the film follows myriad assault survivors who continue to pursue their education while simultaneously battling for justice. Those gutsy enough to report the crimes come up against skepticism, apathy, victim-blaming and harassment from both their fellow students and the administrators who are supposed to protect them. 
The statistics are staggering: One in five college women will be sexually assaulted. Only five percent of campus assaults are actually reported. As many as 90 percent of reported assaults are acquaintance rapes (by someone the victim knows). The worst part about their assault, the victims of “The Hunting Ground” roundly agree, is how they were treated by their higher ed institution afterwards. Universities across the United States are embroiled in a sickening mass cover-up; fearing these instances of assault could become public and taint their brand, scaring off potential students, universities suppress knowledge of reported sexual misconduct. Victims are blamed and questioned every step of the way, asked “what were you wearing when it happened?” “why didn’t you fight him?” or perhaps most insultingly, “did you give him the wrong idea about your friendship?” 

Although the percentage of false reports is very low, institutions are reluctant to believe victims and “The Hunting Ground” reveals the ulterior motives for this hesitation to punish or expel a perpetrator; they almost all have to do with money. Fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than other college men, but in 2013, 60 percent of donations to universities came from fraternity alumni. Student athletes are responsible for 19 percent of sexual assaults, but student athletes also bring an enormous influx of cash and acclaim to their schools. Sports players are treated like celebrities. They can get away with anything. The majority of rapists are repeat offenders (committing an average of six assaults each), but these predators are commonly allowed to remain on campus, even after they are proven guilty. Victims have to see the person who raped them every day, in class or around the dorms.

Kids leave for college fresh-faced and filled with hope for having new adventures and making new friends, not realizing the possible danger that awaits them. “The Hunting Ground” forces audiences to look into the trembling, tear-stained faces of these victims, many of whom now suffer from PTSD, nightmares and depression. In emotional interviews, rape survivors and their families tell their heart-breaking stories. Two key players in “The Hunting Ground” are Andrea (Dre) Pino and Annie Clark, brave college students and survivors themselves who figured out an ingenious legal strategy to fight back, filing a Title IX anti-discrimination complaint against their school. Clark and Pino went on to found the nationwide organization End Rape on Campus, sparking a national debate over campus assaults and creating a supportive network for young women. These issues are finally at the forefront of our country’s consciousness (everyone has heard about Emma Sulkowicz a.k.a. “Mattress Girl,” who carries a mattress at Columbia University as long as her rapist remains on campus). Dick and Ziering have crafted a powerful personal narrative, putting names and faces to the broader social justice issues that plague so many, in a desperate bid to expose these startling truths to the world. 

What drew you to this type of filmmaking or inspired you to make docs about this particular subject matter?
Dick: We saw this as a subject around which a very powerful and dramatic film could be built, but also that could make a great impact on society. I think in our last several films, we’ve looked for stories that aren’t being reported. We realize that a documentary can open discussion up in a different way than any other kind of medium. In this case, it was interesting, because when we started the film, there was very little discussion about these issues.
When was that?
Dick: We started in April of 2013. 
How long did you follow these girls and gather their stories?
Dick: We followed them for about 20 months. And we were following other stories from around the country, other activists as well. That’s another element of why we chose to make this film. We could see the movement was beginning. We didn’t know how far it would go. We didn’t know how it would effect the debate nationally. It would be a very dramatic story, to follow these two young women (Annie and Dre) who were assaulted and were really devastated by it, and then they turned that experience into something positive, and found a novel way for students to take on their institution to promote change. And as a result of that, this whole network of students was created. 
How did you hook up with Annie and Dre (Andrea)? 
Dick: There had been an article about them in the New York Times. 
Ziering: We just did extensive outreach like we do with all our films. With the activists on campus, we’d read articles, we’d read student papers and call the newspapers, different cities and different schools. But Annie and Dre, they were sort of public entities, they weren’t hard to find. 

Were any of the girls reluctant to be on camera? Or were they all eager to share their stories? They allow themselves to be pretty raw and vulnerable.
Dick: There was a certain amount of reluctance. Some were eager to come forward, but many were not, because in so many cases when they told their story, they weren’t believed. We did have a history; in making “The Invisible War,” that had helped convince people we were very sensitive on this topic, and their involvement would be important. And I also think, though there’s no way to document this, “Invisible War” helped embolden some of these activists to even come forward to begin with. Here was a film where people were speaking out and they could see the result of that, they could see action. They were supported and praised for speaking out in that film. So people could see there would be actual change; there was a reason to participate. 
Ziering: A number of the survivors I reached out to said they decided to take my call and respond because they had seen “Invisible War.” It opened up a space for them to feel safe and think that maybe this was actually a good thing to do. 
Did anyone ever try to back out? 
Ziering: As a courtesy, some people wanted to speak with us but they were nervous, so we put them in shadow. So in that sense, they did back out. But we had quite a lot more people in shadow and we just elected not to use anyone in shadow, we decided it’s more powerful not to do that. We had enough people that would show their faces. 
Dick: We actually shot it two ways: both in shadow and with their identity clear. And then they could select. Some backed out and some elected to be shown. So it’s interesting, because people are oftentimes right on the edge, whether they want to be identified or not. And to give them this option, it actually relaxes them. They don’t feel they have to make this very important decision right from the beginning. Because in the end they may want to be identified. 
Was there opposition from the schools? You say in the film that many university presidents refused to comment at all. But what about you filming on their campuses or filming their students?
Dick: [laughter] We just filmed on their campuses. We oftentimes worked with students to film. We anticipated that schools would not welcome us with open arms, so we found ways. 

Annie and Dre took their personal experiences and politicized them. You’re doing the opposite — taking these broad political issues and trying to put a human face to them. It’s hard to know what it feels like to be a sexual assault victim if you’ve never been in that position. How did you attempt to get the audience to empathize with these characters?
Dick: First of all, Amy did all the interviews with the survivors, as she did with “The Invisible War.” And she’s an incredible interviewer, incredibly empathetic. That was really the first step. When you’re interviewing and it’s so intimate and personal and you’re hearing this very traumatic story told in a way that’s really never been told in any kind of public forum, I think that creates a bond between the audience and the survivors. There’s this culture of shame around sexual assault and people are afraid to speak. That shouldn’t be. So that was one of the first hurdles: we wanted people to think about these characters as if they were their children or brothers. And I think because of Amy’s interviews, we succeeded.

What were some major differences you found shooting this in comparison to shooting “The Invisible War”? I imagine going up against the U.S. government and universities might be different, how did the process or the subjects compare?
Ziering: With the military, if you go through certain rules, they have to speak with you, since they’re a public institution. There’s certain protocol and bureaucracy, you fill out certain forms, but if you comply with all their restrictions, they have to sit and talk with you on camera. That’s not the same with universities. So that’s the difference. You’re not necessarily gonna be able to get a sit-down moment with someone who can tell you what’s going on. Cinematically, it’s so much more complicated, the structure of each school. It wasn’t easy to do an across-the-board analysis. 
How did you select the schools?
Ziering: We wanted them to represent different geographic locations and different kinds of institutions. So people wouldn’t walk away thinking “oh, it’s just the Ivy leagues, or the elite top private.” It’s sports schools, it’s Catholic schools, it’s state schools. We had survivors from dozens of institutions to choose from, each of them which could’ve been their own feature film. But strategically, we wanted to convey to an audience that it’s widespread. It’s institutional. It’s an epidemic. And it’s not just at particular places. 

The NY Times recently published a piece about some lawmakers who are suggesting girls carry guns on campus to combat the threat of rape. I assume you don’t think that’s a good idea. 
Ziering: It’s a horrible idea. Especially since most of the cases are alcohol related. Most idiotic idea I’ve ever heard.
Dick: It shows a profound lack of understanding of the problem. First of all, these survivors probably know their assailant. They’re reluctant to pull a gun on them to begin with. Secondly, when there’s alcohol involved, nobody wants a gun out when someone is intoxicated. And finally, in so many cases, they’re incapacitated when the assault happens. So that wouldn’t even have any impact. I mean, we’re all for any kind of focus on this, and even from the legislative angle, any kind of solution, but it has to be informed. If it’s not informed, it will make the problem worse.
Ziering: It just shows a real misunderstanding of the situation. These are highly premeditated crimes. They are target rapes, they’re not date rapes. They are calculated and there wasn’t anything a gun really could’ve done in 99% of the situations I’m thinking back on. The gun would only have helped the assailant. 
It’s a small percentage of men who are actually guilty of sexual assault. Most of them are repeat offenders. But it seems the perpetrators’ fellow students usually support their friend or back up their story. Why is there that tendency for other students to believe the rapist instead of the victim? 
Dick: Oftentimes the perpetrator is very popular and entitled. Very respected. It’s hard to imagine that this happens. It’s the same thing in the military; these repeat offenders kind of cultivate a way of choosing victims who may not be believable. Or assaulting them in ways that there’s no evidence whatsoever that could go public. So they’re able to keep the story up that it was a false claim. That’s part of their strategy. 
Have the girls who were your primary interview subjects seen the film? What was their response? 
Ziering: Most of the primary subjects have seen it. The reaction has been extremely positive. 
They don’t fear retaliation or ostracism from being participants?
Dick: In so many of these cases, these people tried to do the right thing and it didn’t happen. But they have a profound sense of justice, certainly about something that happened to them. It shows a real courage. They became a part of this film because they wanted the truth told, not only about what happened to them, but about what happens to hundreds of thousands of women. I think that’s what they’re so proud of in their association with this film.

What kind of a toll does this take on you guys? It’s not an easy subject matter to cover for so long. 
Ziering: You know, it seems silly to talk about the toll it takes on us in light of their experiences. But it’s hard. Really, I think we’re just so happy that we can help people. We have seen that these films do actually have transformative effects on not only survivors, but families and friends of survivors who have a different perspective after seeing the movie. And the public at large can look at these people, and understand this issue in a very different way. 
This isn’t a problem just on college campuses or in the military. It’s a larger issue of sexual assault, like domestic abuse—and how there often aren’t any consequences, rapists are able to get away with it. Are you going to follow this kind of narrative into other areas? 
Dick: We’re discussing it. It’s a huge commitment. When you make a film addressing a social problem, you’re with that film for many years after. But we are hopeful, that what’s happening in Congress, and the President, he deserves real credit for the leadership he’s had on this issue. Perhaps we’re part of something that’s starting to change something around in this country. 
A video created by the non-profit Hollaback! went viral last year, following a woman walking the streets of New York while men catcalled and verbally harassed her. After seeing the video, I heard lots of guys ask their female friends, “does that really happen to you? I had no idea.” I think your film could be like that. People will see how rampant the problem actually is. 
Ziering: Yeah, I think so! I don’t think you leave the theater thinking the same way you ever thought before. 
Dick: One of the things a good film can do is change the way a person sees an issue for the rest of their lives.

READ MORE: Kirby Dick on His Harrowing ‘Invisible War’

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Comments

Samantha Goddard

Where can I purchase the DVD or download the doco? I am in Sydney, Australia – thanks!

Dennis Lapointe

"The majority of rapists are repeat offenders (committing an average of six assaults each)"

That’s funny…in "The Invisible War" they claimed that "the average sex offender has 300 victims."

Sam Valley

In America almost 40,000 white women are raped by black men each year. Where’s the documentary on that?

"A Pioneer Qui Tam Relators Story"

Thank You for bringing this to the attention of Parents and students alike. "A Pioneer Qui Tam Relators Story"

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