A Turning Point

On Sunday CNN broadcast The Hunting Ground into millions of homes and the response has been profound.

Despite the best efforts of trolls and rape deniers on social media and in print to hijack the conversation, despite the pleas of FSU President John Thrasher for the public to tune out, despite legal threats from star quarterback and accused rapist Jameis Winston to try and stop the broadcast—the documentary aired, and millions participated in a much-needed national discussion.

Online, it was clear that the public was persuaded by the facts and strongly voiced support.

We tracked more than 52 million impressions on Twitter alone. Political leaders, students, parents and teachers all voiced their support not just for the film, but for the incredible women and men who shared their stories of survival.

Following the broadcast, CNN hosted a roundtable discussion, inviting Amy and Kirby to discuss how the film was made and providing a space for some of the film’s critics to air their grievances.

Again, it was clear from the public response and the on-air panel discussion that nobody was fooled by the critics’ bad information.

Facts are facts, and judging from the overwhelming support we’ve received since The Hunting Ground’s TV debut, we’re confident that the film will continue to educate the public about these heinous crimes and coverups and lead to real change.

Thank you for your support, online and off. If you haven’t seen the film, you can watch it digitally here.

Once you see the documentary, take action. Go to See Act Stop and find ways to get involved.

Below are some words of encouragement from those viewing the film in real time. We can’t possibly do justice to the outpouring of support and solidarity, but this should give a glimpse of the impact we’re having together.

 

An Open Letter to Florida State University President Thrasher

From The Huffington Post:

We respectfully but emphatically disagree with your criticisms of our film The Hunting Ground. Instead of making unwarranted and unsubstantiated attacks on the film, we urge you to take a leadership role in addressing the problem of sexual assault that exists on your campus and far too many others.

We are completely accurate in our depiction of Ms. Kinsman’s account, and in our depiction of how her case was handled by Florida State University.

You say there are distortions and glaring omissions, but you are not able to state a single fact error in our film.  That is because there is none.

Your assertion that the film did not mention Jameis Winston’s Title IX investigation, or its outcome, is not true. Both are mentioned in the film.

You say FSU is a “model” when it comes to handling sexual assault. The truth is that your school is being investigated by the Department of Education for its mishandling of sexual assault cases, and many media outlets including The New York Times have detailed how your school covered up sexual assault allegations against its former star quarterback.

In an interview on January 16, 2015, you said FSU has been “aggressively” working on a “scheme” regarding the negative publicity FSU has received about how they mishandled Title IX complaints. Rather than “scheming”, we believe FSU students are better served by efforts to make their campus safe.

You claim FSU “ did everything appropriately” in regard to Erica Kinsman’s Title IX complaint. We believe the facts show otherwise:

  • December 7, 2012 – Kinsman immediately reported her rape to the Florida State University and Tallahassee police within hours of the assault. She was taken to a nearby hospital where a rape kit was administered and bruises were noted in her medical record. FSU police did not report the assault to the FSU Title IX Coordinator as required by federal guidelines.
  • January 22, 2013 – Florida State Head Football Coach Jimbo Fisher learned that Jameis Winston has been accused of sexual assault but did not report the assault to the FSU Title IX Coordinator as required by federal guidelines.
  • For the next eighteen months, FSU did almost nothing to investigate this report of rape even though the FSU school policy and the Department of Education presumes that any accusation of sexual assault will be investigated and resolved with 60 days.
  • November 12, 2013 – Despite being on notice that another woman had reported being sexually assaulted by Winston, FSU stated in an email that no disciplinary proceedings against Winston were going to take place for either of the reported assaults.
  • November 14, 2013 – Kinsman dropped out of school, fearing for her safety because of retaliation over social media from FSU students and fans.
  • December 14, 2013 – Winston was named winner of the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
  • January 6, 2014 – FSU’s football team won the BCS National Championship.
  • January 23, 2014 – More than a year after FSU officials were made aware that Winston was accused of rape, FSU finally called Winston in for an interview regarding the accusation. Winston refused to answer any questions. After the interview, FSU sent a letter to Winston stating they were not going to investigate the case because Winston refused to talk to them.
  • In the spring of 2014 – FSU, in violation of the victim advocate privilege, gave a copy of Kinsman’s privileged victim advocate file to its outside legal counsel.
  • December 5, 2014 – Nearly two years after the report of rape, FSU finally held a hearing about the accusation. The FSU hearing officer found Winston not responsible despite the fact he refused to answer every question put to him by the hearing officer except three while Kinsman answered all 156 questions asked of her.
  • January 7, 2015 – Six days after his final football game, Winston withdrew from FSU and made himself eligible for the 2015 NFL Football Draft.

I would strongly encourage you to respond to the crisis on our campuses in the spirit that Harvard President Drew Faust did. In a letter dated September 21 to the Harvard community, she said: “The prevalence of sexual assault represents a deeply troubling problem for Harvard…but the difficulty and severity of the problem make it all the more important that we come together to address it.”

FSU students are best served by an administration that acknowledges past mistakes and focuses on the very real problem of sexual assault on its campus.

Best Regards,

Kirby Dick, Director

Amy Ziering, Producer

The Hunting Ground

‘Why Critiques of the Campus Rape Documentary The Hunting Ground Only Prove its Point’

From the Huffington Post:

Critics of the hit documentary The Hunting Ground – which illuminates in damning detail the prevalence of sexual violence at American universities – are ramping up their attacks just in time for The Hunting Ground‘s prime time debut on CNN this Sunday, November 22. And if they aren’t careful, their aspersions might dovetail with the massive audience CNN commands to result in a spectacular backfire: For the film’s central premise is that whistle blowers on campus sexual violence are demonized and delegitimized by the very same universities who are going on the offensive in advance of Sunday’s screening.

Directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering, The Hunting Ground debuted to rave reviews and a standing ovation at Sundance in January – the New York Times called it a “must-watch work of cine-activism.” It has since been screened at the White House, and submitted for consideration for a feature documentary Academy Award.

Using the testimony of young women who experienced sexual assault at schools like Berkeley, Harvard, and UNC Chapel Hill, The Hunting Ground brings vivid and heart-rending life to the statistic that one in five women experiences sexual assault in college. It chronicles the trauma of the violence they endure, and excoriates the lack of protection afforded to them by the institutions they trusted.

Continue reading

Response to Statement by 19 Harvard Law Professors

Last week 19 Harvard Law School professors released an inaccurate and misleading statement to the press criticizing The Hunting Ground for its portrayal of the sexual assault of Harvard Law School student Kamilah Willingham and her friend.

Everything in The Hunting Ground is accurate and thoroughly vetted. We fully stand behind Kamilah Willingham and all the cases we feature in the film. The facts of the cases in the film can be found here.

Below is a point-by-point refutation of their claims:

  1. The professor’s statement falsely asserts that the film portrays the perpetrator as using force against Kamilah. This is false. Nowhere in the film is that mentioned or even suggested.
  2. The professors fail to mention the findings of both the Independent Fact Finder hired by Harvard Law as well as the findings of the Harvard Law Administrative Board. Both found Kamilah Willingham credible and the accused not credible, and found him responsible for sexually assaulting two women who were incapacitated.
  3. The professors fail to mention that Willingham was wrongfully not included in the appeals process, nor was she even informed it was happening until the process was complete, both of which were a violation of Title IX guidelines.
  4. A body of Harvard Law professors, which included many of the signatories of the statement, conducted the final review of the case and overturned the findings of two Harvard Law entities. To date, Willingham has not been informed of the specific reason for the reversal, who participated in the vote, and what the vote count was.
  5. These professors’ direct involvement in a process that violated Department of Education guidelines raises questions regarding their objectivity and the motivation for their attack on the film.
  6. The professors fail to mention that the Harvard Law process was found in violation of U.S. Department of Education guidelines and policies. In particular, the Department found that Harvard Law’s policies unfairly favored perpetrators.
  7. Rather than acknowledge the fact that the Harvard Law process was flawed, the professors suggest that because the Department of Education didn’t “vindicate Ms. Willingham’s claims” they found them to be false. This is not true, and misleading – the Department of Education does not assess the veracity of the claims of individual cases. It critiques overall procedures.
  8. The professors also comment extensively on the criminal case, which is not the focus of The Hunting Ground. The film’s focus is on adjudications of sexual assaults on college campuses, and is an accurate representation of these procedures. In the Willingham case, there was also a criminal process. The filmmakers elected to include a card at the end of the film about the outcome of that process, which accurately states, “A grand jury indicted the accused with felony sexual assault of Kamilah’s friend and a jury convicted him of misdemeanor non-sexual assault. He was never tried for assaulting Kamilah.”
  9. The professors fail to include that Winston was found guilty by a criminal court of a non-sexual assault charge (for touching the naked breast of the other victim while she was incapacitated), a victory for survivors since any kind of criminal conviction in a sexual assault case is so rare.
  10. The professors claim that the filmmakers named the perpetrator of Willingham’s assault. The Hunting Ground did not ever name the perpetrator. Winston was first named by journalists, and then in the statement by the professors.

Support of The Hunting Ground from Harvard Law Faculty and Students:

“I fully support The Hunting Ground film, which is all about ending the silence of survivors. Because I was involved as a participant in the disciplinary proceedings concerning Brandon Winston, I am bound by the principles of confidentiality under which the hearing was conducted, so I cannot say anything about the substance of the case. I can however say that the signatories of the press release represent only a minority of the HLS faculty, and that Mr. Winston was subsequently convicted of a criminal offense arising out of this incident.” -Diane Rosenfeld, Harvard Law Faculty Member

“The creators of The Hunting Ground gave survivors a chance to tell their story, which is a different task from courtroom advocacy, though no less noble. To some of our professors, it seems, sharing one’s story in a documentary, speaking outside of the legal arena, causes discomfort. But they don’t want her to tell her story publicly; at least not without all the facts they think need to be included, and certainly not after they’ve decided she was lying. Targeting the forum in which a survivor speaks is another way of silencing the survivor.” The Harassment/Assault Legal Team (HALT),a law student-run organization that advocates for victims of campus sexual harassment and assault.

Additional problems with the statement:

  1. The Harvard Professors point to commentator Emily Yoffe’s error-ridden piece to support their case. Either these professors didn’t do the most basic due diligence which would have revealed how misleading the piece was, or they cited it knowing it was an error-ridden, misrepresentation of the case. Yoffe’s claims are refuted in a detailed, documented fact sheet on The Hunting Ground website.
  2. The professors question the “general sexual assault phenomenon” the film portrays. It’s deeply troubling that these Harvard Law professors, without any expertise or evidence to support their claim, engage in challenging decades of well–founded studies that show that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in college.
  3. The professors state that “there was never any evidence that [the accused] used force.” Their fixation on force as a requirement for rape shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of sexual assault. Force is not involved in most sexual assaults, especially those on campuses. By emphasizing force, the professors are telling victims that unless you have bruises or other injuries, we will not believe you.
  4. The professors reference to the “inebriated state of the women who are portrayed in the film as his victims” is classic victim blaming, and is exactly the kind of misogynistic, punitive and shaming attitudes that helps perpetuate sexual assault on college campuses.

The real injustice.

The in many ways the professors’ statement is a perfect example of what The Hunting Ground shows has been so common throughout higher education: institutional denial. Rather than doubting survivors, denying the science around college sexual assault, and attacking a film that exposes the reality of what is happening across higher education, the professors should respond in the way that Harvard President Drew Faust did. In a letter to students and alumni, she said: “The prevalence of sexual assault represents a deeply troubling problem for Harvard…but the difficulty and severity of the problem make it all the more important that we come together to address it.”

The real injustice at the heart of this issue is that these Harvard Law professors have been completely silent regarding the thousands of assaults that have happened on their campus over decades that have not been investigated or appropriately adjudicated. Not once in their statement do they ever acknowledge that nearly 30 percent of women are sexually assaulted while at Harvard, nor do they express any concern about them. Their silence contributes to the ongoing problem of sexual assault at Harvard and Harvard Law. Read about the AAU Harvard Study Here

Why are we waiting until college to learn about consent?

Annie E. Clark, one of the amazing women featured in our film and a co-founder of End Rape on Campus, argues in The Washington Post that education about consent should begin long before college orientation.

Here is an excerpt:

If you ask a college man if he would ever commit rape, he would probably answer “no.” He would most likely be correct, because even though most perpetrators are men, most men are not perpetrators. However, if you asked men whether they would have sex with someone who didn’t explicitly and verbally assent to sex, or someone who had been drinking or was otherwise incapacitated, their answer might change.

This isn’t the same thing as the “blurred line” myth, that consent is confusing or ambiguous. There is a clear line between sex and rape, but ignorance of that line is not an excuse to commit a crime. And that means we must teach our children better.

We need to educate young men long before they arrive on campus. We must stop the idea that just because she didn’t say “no” meant that her body was available. We must stop the idea that women are objects and are responsible for whatever violent behavior is acted upon them.

Read the full article at The Washington Post.

New York and California have new laws on the books recognizing affirmative consent as the modern standard, and there’s a movement nationally to adopt similar “yes means yes” legislation.

See Act Stop

As The Hunting Ground played in theaters, and was screened at conferences, universities and even 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 created an online activist 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. It’s called See Act Stop.

See Act Stop is a way for film viewers, coalition partners and other activists to gather, trade notes and — via actions large and small — make real change. Together, we can push the general public, policymakers and school officials to see the problem and act to do something to stop these crimes.

Please take a second and go to the link below and sign up to join See Act Stop. With your help, we can make sure that our campuses are more safe and just.

http://seeactstop.org/

Thanks for your support and your energy. Let’s get to work.

– Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick

Til it happens to you

Lady Gaga and Diane Warren’s haunting theme song for The Hunting Ground has become an Internet phenomenon, helping to introduce the issue of campus sexual assault to a whole new audience.

Below you can watch the PSA of the song, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, and another video of fans’ reactions after seeing it for the first time.