If you don’t have enough anger in your life, might we recommend watching Kirby Dick’s documentary The Hunting Ground? Mr. Dick and his producer, Amy Ziering, previously collaborated on The Invisible War (2012), an equally infuriating look at rape within the military and the armed forces’ inability/unwillingness to respond appropriately.
The current film could be considered a sort of sequel: It too deals with institutional responses to rape that seem much more concerned with protecting the accused than supporting the victim. The difference is that The Hunting Ground looks at universities, whose policies one might expect to be more balanced. The military, after all, regardless of its current gender percentages, is a world that’s been steeped in machismo for millennia.
It’s tough to decide which of these two worlds is the more loathsome on the issue, but whichever comes in second is bad enough.
There are many similarities linking the two films. Centrally, in both, many of the survivors say that, while the attack was horrible, the response by authorities was even worse. Both the military and universities serve as surrogate families for young people leaving the nest for the first time. The sense of betrayal and the near impossibility of redress adds injury to injury.
The problem cannot be written off as the work of a few — or even many — individually bad apples; it is bound up with the culture and, like nearly everything else, money. A disproportionate number of rapes involve athletes and fraternity members, as does a disproportionate percentage of alumni donation money.
Among the main cases in the film is the accusation of sexual assault against Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The prosecutor who decided not to press charges against Winston carefully parses his words, repeatedly saying “There was not enough evidence for a case” without coming close to saying “Winston didn’t do it.”
Perhaps he should have followed up with charges against the Tallahassee police, whose treatment of the complaint was so negligent and/or inept that it looks deliberate. There was a lot of likely evidence that might have been uncovered had the cops not essentially ignored the woman’s complaint.
Fraternity culture as a whole shares responsibility, but some frats are worse than others (and probably proud of it). Dick presents a montage of female students, who — asked which fraternity they’d be most reluctant to party at — all lead with Sigma Alpha Epsilon and cite its nickname — “Sexual Assault Expected.” This is, of course, the same fraternity that was just shut down at the University of Oklahoma for a disgusting display of racism.
If all this sounds depressing and infuriating, well … it is. Aware of this, Dick and Ziering try to provide some relief by weaving throughout the film the story of two students building a national network of survivors to address the issues. This helps, but The Hunting Ground, like The Invisible War, paints an ugly picture of rot at the heart of American life.