Shoot the Messenger

We were warned that our film about campus sexual assault would prompt a backlash, and as filmmakers who take on challenging subjects, we were ready. Even so, we’ve been shocked by some aggressive and deeply personal media attacks on the young women featured in our film.

As noted in a ThinkProgress rebuke of those who continue to deny that rape is a problem, some of these attacks have come have come from people with powerful platforms, and their smear campaigns have become a second trauma to survivors. Kamilah Willingham, a key subject of our film, likened it to a second assault when a few of her own professors at Harvard Law attacked her personally in the form of a public letter. But those professors went further than spreading false information, they actually launched into victim blaming her. Casey Quinlan writes in Think Progress: “The writers of the letter are also betraying two common assumptions about what make a rape or sexual assault ‘legitimate.’ They imply that the intoxicated state of the victims is related to how responsible they are for their own sexual assault, and they also imply that force is necessary to sexually assault a victim.”

Quinlan has taken a hard look at the claims of our detractors, as well as the preponderance of evidence supporting us:

Despite extensive research showing that a significant number of college students are raped on campus, some people — including political figures, journalists, and college administrators — continue to imply it’s not actually a high-priority issue or that claims are already being handled correctly.

The most prominent example of this backlash came from Emily Yoffe, who criticized Willingham’s account in Slate, saying it was simply a “spontaneous, drunken encounter,” and Stuart Taylor of The National Review. Willingham said she received the worst harassment shortly after Yoffe wrote about her.

“Some of the criticism is from people who really don’t understand the issue and who really don’t understand the experience of survivors,” Amy Ziering, the producer of The Hunting Ground, said in an interview with ThinkProgress.

Ziering and her colleagues interviewed over 100 sexual assault survivors over the course of making the film. She noted that a lot of the sexual assault survivors who were interviewed for The Hunting Ground didn’t agree to appear on camera because they “didn’t want to go through the trauma of publicly claiming this happened to them” and face the subsequent backlash.”

This article strikes a blow to the many rape deniers who have attacked our film and the survivors we feature. Read the full text here.