By Kimberly Theidon; Originally posted at kimberlytheidon.com

I woke up to a message from a colleague, asking for advice and expressing her outrage.  She recently learned that a former student, who had studied for her Masters Degree under my colleague’s supervision, has been driven out of her PhD program due to a sexually harassing professor. What to do? I offered the standard package of advice, knowing this young woman will most likely go quietly for fear of retaliation and career-ending retribution if she reports this professor.  All of which leads me to consider #TheMissingWomen.  From the actresses who left the film industry due to Harvey Weinstein; the musicians/composers/singers run out and ruined by Russell Simmons; the hostesses/servers/sous-chefs who gritted their teeth and let their pot of rage simmer on low; the hotel maids who escaped groping guests; to the young women who leave academia to avoid sexually harassing professors whose power over them makes or breaks careers — how can we begin to measure the missing women who leave their careers of choice (or necessity) because they have been ground down, groped, sexually harassed and driven out?  This is about sexual assault and harassment, to be sure. It is about the violation of bodily integrity and personal dignity, with equal certainty. It is also about the loss of employment, career aspirations, dreams and economic security. How can we begin to measure the economic fallout for #TheMissingWomen?

Kimberly Theidon was featured in The Hunting Ground for her advocacy on behalf of student survivors. She is currently the Henry J. Leir Professor in International Humanitarian Studies at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, and Co-Director of the Gender Analysis and Women’s Leadership Program.

Mad Men Writer Kater Gordon Launches Nonprofit to Combat Sexual Harassment

Mad Men writer Kater Gordon has courageously spoken out about the sexual harassment she faced from showrunner Matthew Weiner. Inspired to come forward after reading the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Gordon is committed to working towards a cultural shift on sexual violence and harassment through her newly launched nonprofit, Modern Alliance. She describes Modern Alliance’s mission below:

Our culture is shifting as courageous people come forward to challenge those who abuse their power. But solutions are still lacking. Victims without wealth or public influence remain silent, fearing for their reputations, their jobs, and potential retaliation. Others are uninformed or overwhelmed, and they have no idea what to do.

Modern Alliance is a growing coalition of the most forward-thinking organizations, researchers, and creatives working together to protect people from destructive, predatory behavior. We will fund research, create original content, and champion online platforms that empower and educate.

Learn more about Modern Alliance: www.modernalliance.com. Photo via Modern Alliance.

The Truth About Statistics of Sexual Assault in College

This is an excerpt from “The Hunting Ground: The Inside Story of Sexual Assault on American College Campuses”, a companion piece to the documentary film.

There’s been a great deal of debate around the statistics of the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, particularly the figure that 1 in 5 or more women are sexually assaulted while in college. Self-proclaimed experts, opinion writers, and even some professors have tried to cast doubt on these studies, claiming the science is flawed.

The truth is that nearly all of this debate has been unnecessary and distracting, since the 1 in 5 statistic has been repeatedly established in dozens of national and local studies. In fact, since 1987, six national studies – including one released in early 2016 by the Department of Justice – show that as many as 1 in 4 college women are sexually assaulted in college.

Koss, Gidycz, Wisniewski (1987)
3,187 women in 32 institutions
More than 25% of undergraduate women sexually victimized while in college

Fisher, Cullen, Turner (2000)
4,446 women in two and four year institutions
16% of women sexually victimized during the current academic year

Ford, Soto-Marquez (2015)
2,345 women in 21 institutions
25% of women sexually assaulted while in college

Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation (2015)
514 women in several hundred institutions
20% of undergraduate women sexually assaulted while in college

Association of American Universities (AAU) (2015)
89,115 women in 27 institutions
23% of undergraduate women sexually assaulted while in college

National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (2016)
15,000 women in 9 institutions
25% of undergraduate women sexually assaulted while in college (2106)

Another criticism that pundits like to put forward is that the category for sexual assault is too broad, and includes everything from forced kissing to rape. They claim by including these “lesser assaults” in the study results the statistics regarding the prevalence of sexual assault is inflated. What they neglect to say is that these “lesser assaults” are only a small portion of the total assaults. In fact, national studies show the majority of these assaults are for rape and attempted rape.

Koss, Gidycz, Wisniewski (1987) – Rape 16%

Fisher, Cullen, Turner (2000) – Rape or attempted rape 12%

Kilpatrick, Resnick, Ruggiero, Conoscenti, McCauley (2007) – Rape or attempted rape 12%

Association of American Universities (2015) – Rape 11%

National Institute of Justice (2016) – Rape – 4% (in one academic year only)

In other words, according to nearly every national study, an undergraduate woman has between a 1 in 10 and 1 in 6 chance that she will experience rape or attempted rape while in college.

Some commentators respond by claiming that the lower response rate of some of the studies invalidates their findings. They argue, without evidence, that people who’ve been assaulted will be more likely to respond to a sexual assault survey than people who haven’t been assaulted. But an equally strong argument can be made that people who are assaulted would be less likely to take the survey because answering dozens of questions about sexually assault would be emotionally re-traumatizing for them.

In fact, that the four national studies with very high response rates (Koss – 98.5%, Fisher – 86.5%, Ford 100%, and NIJ – 54%) show the highest rates of assault.

Jennifer Freyd, a highly regarded researcher at the University of Oregon, confirmed this correlation again when she analyzed the 26-school AAU study and demonstrated that schools with higher response rates had slightly higher rates of sexual assault.

There is one outlier study that opinion makers invariably point to – the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which found a much lower rate of sexual assault. What they never disclose is that this study has been severely criticized by the National Academies of Sciences, which – in a 278-page report – unequivocally concludes that the NCVS sexual assault numbers are unreliable.

The National Academies of Sciences report lists more than twelve ways in which the NCVS study fails to employ best practices, including:

  • Not counting sexual assault while incapacitated, which in some surveys account for more than 50% of sexual assault on college campuses.
  • Erroneously basing its calculations on an average student attending college for 3.5 years, when in fact the average student now takes nearly six years to graduate, resulting in a potential undercount up to 40%.
  • Contacting students primarily using land lines and not cell phones, which are much more commonly used by college students.
  • Conducting interviews in the home, often within earshot of family members, which discourages students responding to questions about sexual assault.

Why has every opinion writer who has based their argument on the NCVS study failed to mention the critique by the National Academy of Sciences? Either they are unaware of the report, in which case they haven’t the most basic due diligence, or they are aware of it and have deliberately chosen not to inform their readership because it would undermine their argument. Either way, their omission discredits the conclusions of these writers.

This cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion and convince the public that the problem is overblown is very reminiscent of the debate around global warming. For decades, scientists have shown that human activity is contributing to a rapid rise in the earth’s temperature, yet climate denying pundits continue to claim this untrue and that we have nothing to be concerned about. In fact, one of the most prominent of these rape-denying pundits, Emily Yoffe, is also a climate change denier. Writing in an article about “The Inconvenient Truth,” an Academy Award winning documentary about global warming, Yoffe writes that it is “hard to believe assertions that the science on the future of our climate is settled when climate scientists can’t agree about the present” and “just because something can be plotted on an X and Y axis does not make it the whole truth.”

The truth is that we can, and must, rely on scientists to analyze human behavior on college campuses, and denying their expertise is a sure path to tragedy. Those who attempt to discredit the work of these scientists do much more than mislead the public; by encouraging our country to ignore this crisis, they contribute to the continuation of the problem. It’s time we come together to move beyond these harmful misinformation campaigns, acknowledge this problem, and create real and effective change for the sake of our nation’s college students.

From the makers of The Hunting Ground: Thank You

When we started making our first film about sexual assault, The Invisible War, we were told time and again not to bother.

The world, they said, had other interests and priorities—and sexual assault was not one of them.

We are gratified and even somewhat astonished to write that now, two films and six years later, this issue continually makes headlines and is a topic of import and concern—not only here in the US, but around the globe.

The world is very much listening to the voices of survivors and, for the first time in our lifetimes, the blame for these crimes is rightfully shifting from the victim to the perpetrator.

And all this has happened, in no small part, because of you.

With your help and activism, The Hunting Ground has been screened thousands of times on campuses and at community centers around the country, and was viewed by millions on CNN and Netflix. We stood together and wept when Lady Gaga sang alongside 50 survivors our Oscar nominated song at the Academy Awards.

The world was again galvanized when a Stanford survivor’s letter, written to her attacker, went public, becoming the most widely read news article in BuzzFeed’s history. Think about it—a letter by an assault survivor garnering over 18 million views, generating thousands of news articles, and being read by news anchors, in Congress, and by the Vice President of the United States.

It is not often we as a culture are privileged to be part of history in the making—to be part of the change we want to see in the world.

You are reading this because you decided to look at our darker nature and say we can and must do better—and we will. You decided to look centuries of injustice in the eye, stare it down and say no more, and it actually, miraculously, brilliantly worked

We are handing over this campaign to It’s On Us, our advocacy partners in the White House. They are committed to continuing what all of us started—and they have the power and infrastructure to help the movement continue to build and grow across campuses and around the country. And while we will still be working with Its On Us and their campaign, it’s time to get back to what we do best—making films about vital social issues that people say no one is interested in.

Moving forward, our partners at It’s On Us are taking over the social activism work of The Hunting Ground and bringing our followers into their own community.

We encourage all of you to visit It’s On Us and, if you haven’t already, take the pledge:


The fight is far from over, but by joining forces we will win. 

Thanks as always for your support and your energy.
– Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick

It’s on Us to See Act Stop

As The Hunting Ground played in theaters, and was screened at universities, state legislatures, and at the White House, we started to hear from more and more people who wanted to do more than just watch. They wanted to take action and work to stop sexual assault on campus.

So we helped create an online platform built to harness the energy generated by the film and the public’s desire to do something to stop violence and sexual assault on college campuses.

We called it See Act Stop.

We’re proud of the contribution See Act Stop has made to the fight against sexual assault. A lot has happened since The Hunting Ground was first seen at the Sundance Film Festival last year. Universities with terrible patterns of abuse have been forced to confront their negligence, fire their leaders and enact reforms. States like New York and California passed groundbreaking legislation. Vice President Joe Biden has become even more of a champion for survivors. And at a time when political gridlock is at its highest, the Senate unanimously passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act.

Activists, survivors and many others continue to carry this work forward, and we’ve decided to join forces with one of the most effective organizations battling the culture of sexual assault in this country. It’s called It’s On Us. It’s the community action initiative of the White House, which has provided historic leadership in the fight against sexual assault.

Moving forward, our partners at It’s On Us are taking over the work of See Act Stop and bringing its members into their own community.

We encourage all of you to visit It’s On Us and, if you haven’t already, take the pledge:

The fight is far from over but by joining forces we will win.

Thanks as always for your support and your energy.

– Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick

The Hunting Ground Book

Today, we’re happy to announce the release of our book The Hunting Ground: The Inside Story of Sexual Assault on American College Campuses. This companion piece tells the story behind the film and takes a deeper look at the epidemic of sexual assault on our nation’s campuses. You will find compelling essays by leading experts; learn more about the Florida State University rape case and what may have led the University to settle with the victim; and read about the filmmakers’ strong defense against a smear campaign by professors at Harvard Law School. You’ll learn about institutional cover-ups, fraternity culture, the lengths to which many universities have gone to defend their star athletes, and the brutal toll on victims and their families. You will find gripping personal stories by survivors of sexual assault and guidance on how to learn more and raise your voice to combat this issue. Like the film, the book is a call to action to students, to parents, and also to teachers. As writer and professor Roxane Gay states in her essay: “If we do nothing to try to address sexual violence on the campuses where we teach, we are, with our silence, issuing permits for sexual predators to roam freely on the hunting grounds of our campuses.”

About The Hunting Ground

The Hunting Ground is an award-winning documentary that calls out universities on sexual assault policies that protect their brand instead of their students. The film depicts a chilling climate that shields star athletes and silences victims. Because of the film, real change has been underway. With more than one thousand screenings on college campuses, and viewings at the White House, the Department of Justice, and before other seats of power, more people are aware of this problem and thinking about solutions. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York established a new bill aimed at stopping sexual assault on New York’s college campuses; the University of California launched a mandatory comprehensive program for students at its colleges; and outrage by public figures such as Vice President Joe Biden is forcing public discussion. At the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony, just before Biden introduced Lady Gaga to sing the film’s theme song “Til It Happens To You,” he spoke of changing the culture so that no abused woman or man is ashamed to speak out. This is all good news—yet vital, systemic change lags in fraternities, athletic programs, and the offices of college presidents, many of whom refuse to acknowledge the problem and address it.

About the Authors and Editor

Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick are award-winning filmmakers whose documentary, “The Invisible War”—about rape in the military—sparked a similar national outcry, winning two Emmys, a Peabody, an Academy Award nomination, wide acclaim in the press, and guest appearances on such shows as Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and Bill Maher’s Real Time. “The Hunting Ground,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early in 2015, had its national television premiere on CNN that October.

Constance Matthiessen (editor) is a writer and editor who lives in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, Mother Jones, The Nation, and other publications.

Contributing essays by Amy Herdy, Kamilah Willingham, Roxane Gay, Andrew O’Hehir, D. Watkins, Christine Asquith, Jessica Luther, Alissa Ackerman and Caroline Heldman, Erin Ryan, Wendy Levy, Diane Rosenfeld and Lisa Knisely.

hunting ground book cover 

Buy the book on Amazon


Students Stand Against Sexual Assault

There are so many amazing organizations and individuals mobilizing for sexual assault awareness month. We wanted to take this time to acknowledge the student activists who have worked so hard to stand up for survivors.

College students have been speaking out about sexual assault experiences and it has led to an unprecedented wave of activism, powering real change and influencing the national conversation. They deserve credit for major victories, including: A task force set up by President Barack Obama, the It’s On Us White House campaign to prevent sexual violence, several bills in Congress, a slew of state-level committees, and continued government hearings about rape on campus. Survivor activists and allies have effectively put sexual violence on the national agenda and made a real impact.

Students standing up for survivors can transform society. For sexual assault awareness month, we want to highlight just a few of the movement leaders in our recent history who have worked tirelessly to make change.

Activism can take many forms, like turning a mattress into a symbol of protest as one Columbia University student did. For her senior thesis, Emma Sulkowicz conducted a work of endurance performance art called “Carry That Weight” to protest the fact that her attacker remained at the institution. For an entire academic year, she carried a mattress wherever she went on campus—including to her graduation ceremony.

Most organizations start small, but a movement can grow quickly when you have activists like Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky, who co-founded Know Your IX to educate students about their rights. “A few years ago, when we were each sexually assaulted by a student on our campus, we had no idea that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments was about anything more than women’s sports. We wish we had known at the time about our civil right to an education free from harassment and violence. With that knowledge, we could have stood up to our schools’ cruel responses to the violence we reported.”

Know Your IX has a growing network of campus activists, but it all started because of one student: Angie Epifano. Her essay, which detailed her experience with sexual assault at Amherst, inspired many and led her college president to announce reforms. Suddenly, sexual assault victims across the country were seeking each other out online and women from other college campuses came forward to file federal complaints under Title IX.

If you’ve seen The Hunting Ground, you’ll recognize Sofie Karasek, Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, co-founders of the survivor advocacy group End Rape on Campus, through which they give voice and counsel to survivors of campus sexual assault all around the country. After encountering an environment at their own university that deprived sexual assault survivors of their rights under Title IX, Pino and Clark, together with three other women, filed two federal complaints against The University of North Carolina. Initially dissuaded from speaking publicly by both their university and the media, the two spoke out and connected with students across the country. Karasek filed a federal complaint against her school, the University of California, Berkeley, over accusations that it had mishandled sexual assault cases (including hers). She now has a website dedicated to the assaults at Berkeley.

These women began helping others learn their civil rights and consulted them in filing their own federal complaints. They’ve visited Senator Gillibrand and inspired her to lend her voice and now a bipartisan group of Senators is pursuing legislation to hold universities accountable for how they handle sexual assaults under their jurisdiction. Learn about their latest work at End Rape on Campus here.

Just this month Stanford students made enough noise that a new campus climate survey will be done. The flawed climate survey released in in October kicked off activism on campus. Students and faculty said methodological flaws led to misleading rates of sexual assault, and decried a university press release that led with the stat that “1.9 percent of all students—both male and female, undergraduate and graduate—had experienced sexual assault.” This impossibly low number sent a damaging message to victims of sexual violence as well as the entire student body.

Last week, with nearly 2,000 voting yes the student body passed by 90.6 percent a referendum asking the administration to conduct a new sexual assault climate survey. As of this week, 27 faculty members and more than 90 alumni have signed two separate letters in support of the new survey. The fight isn’t over for transparency and good data but allies from the faculty and alumni communities make student activists even more effective.  

By making their voices heard, these activists have inspired action—from outside campus libraries, to the steps of our national capitol. Their story demonstrates the power of raising your voice to make change on the issues you care about.

Share this video and help us thank these activists for all they’ve done to enact meaningful change for survivors.

Harvard Law Professor Diane Rosenfeld on the Importance of Title IX

In honor of Women’s history month, Diane Rosenfeld, one of the country’s leading experts on Title IX, offers her insights on why the law has been so integral to cases of campus sexual assault. In 2007, Rosenfeld developed the nation’s first and still only seminar on Title IX and sexual assault. She is the director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School, has done extensive case work in the field and is training the next generation of attorneys to fight for survivors of campus sexual assault.

Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary Ali for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, credits the white paper put forth by Rosenfeld and her students as contributing to the Department’s release of the Vice President Joe Biden’s groundbreaking 2011 Dear Colleague Guidance on Title IX and student-on-student sexual assault. She also currently advises the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

For many survivors, Title IX has been the best (and often the only) recourse for seeking justice. In the video below, Rosenfeld explains what Title IX is and how important it has been to hold schools accountable and encourage reform.

The most effective way to stop campus sexual assault, explains Rosenfeld, is to confront the reality of its perpetration, identify the cultural components that enable its normalization and build the institutional capacity of schools to prevent and address it. Read more from her commentary, Uncomfortable Conversations: Confronting the Reality of Target Rape on Campus, to see how schools must respond to this ongoing crisis. To find out more visit dianerosenfeld.org

The Importance of Teaching Student Journalists How to Cover Sexual Assault

What’s the best way to ask a student who’s been sexually assaulted for an interview?

How can a student journalist cover sexual assault in a way that does not put their publication at legal risk?

How can a student journalist get corroboration from a traumatized survivor?

These were some of the excellent questions asked by student journalists at the “Covering Campus Sexual Assault” workshop at the College Media Association’s Spring National College Media Convention held March 13 in New York City.

I was honored to help teach the workshop, co-sponsored by The Hunting Ground, along with Investigative Reporters & Editors. It featured some of the top experts in the field of campus sexual assault: ESPN Investigative Reporter Paula LaVigne, Center for Public Integrity Senior Reporter Kristen Lombardi, ESPN Investigative Producer Nicole Noren, Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma Research Director Elana Newman, and Sofie Karasek, Director of Education and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, as well as a brave survivor, “Anna.”

Together this amazing team and I fielded questions and shared our experiences of covering campus sexual assault stories in a series of interactive panel presentations. Everyone was so engaged the time seemed to fly by.

The workshop provided a thorough blueprint for college students on how to responsibly report on campus sexual assault, including how to investigate stories, how to interact with survivors and how to handle many of the complex factors that affect coverage of campus sexual assault, including dealing with anxious administrators and the challenges of obtaining records from a private school.

It was a real eye-opener as to the challenges faced by these students who are usually the first to hear of problems on their campus and whose reporting can make a real difference in raising awareness of this issue.

More than 50 students from public and private colleges and universities around the country attended the workshop, asking probing questions and engaging all of us in thoughtful dialogue. The conversations delved into complicated issues, including:

• What can a student journalist do if their school threatens to shut down their publication for covering campus assaults?

• What factors should a student journalist consider when reporting on student survivors who are also undocumented immigrants?

• How does a student journalist find survivors to interview?

• What’s the best way to approach campus administrators for an interview?

• What exactly is the Clery Law?

• How do you establish credibility with a source if you’re a beginner at a new student media publication with no reputation or track record?

The workshop may be over, but the faces of all those earnest students remains in my memory. I hope that working journalists everywhere who cover the ever-increasingly complicated issue of sexual assault reach out to their local college or university and offer to help mentor a student journalist. That time would be a worthwhile investment.

ESPN’s Nicole Noren agreed and said she enjoyed the entire experience.

“It’s inspiring to get a chance to interact with other journalists who share a passion for covering this subject matter,” Noren said. “To be able to discuss our experiences covering this topic with the younger generation of journalists was really rewarding. This subject is incredibly important for young journalists to cover and discuss, but it needs to be done right, there’s too much at stake to get it wrong.”

Kristen Lombardi summed it up well when she emailed this to me afterward: “There are some topics you cover as a journalist that never leave your heart; as difficult as this topic is, it is one such topic for me.”

We’re Streaming

The Hunting Ground is now available on Netflix.

Our mission since we finished the film has been to sound the alarm on campus sexual assault as loudly as our voices will carry. We’ve had more than 1,000 campus screenings and a CNN broadcast to that end. And now a truly massive audience has a chance to see the film and spread the movement.

Help us continue to grow this movement. Share The Hunting Ground with someone you know. The more people who know about this ongoing crisis, the sooner we can end it.