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

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