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, six national studies – including one released in early by the Department of Justice – show that as many as 1 in 4 college women are sexually assaulted in college.

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

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

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

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

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

National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
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 - Rape 16%

Fisher, Cullen, Turner - Rape or attempted rape 12%

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

Association of American Universities – Rape 11%

National Institute of Justice – 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 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 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 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 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 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

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.



Meet Some of the Survivors Who Made This Year’s Oscars Unforgettable


Lady Gaga’s performance at the 88th Academy Awards of her Oscar-nominated theme song from The Hunting Ground, titled “Til It Happens To You,” brought the house down. She shared the stage with 50 courageous survivors, many of them from the film, who received a standing ovation and who made it one of the most significant and memorable moments in Oscar history. Below, a few tell us in their own words why they stood up and what the song means to them (special thanks to Robbie Woodsum, a survivor, for these amazing photos).

Jacqueline Lin

School: Stanford University 

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I need the world to start believing survivors. But even more, I need the kindhearted part of the world to recognize that sexual violence is not a solved problem. We are getting silenced more and more every minute by institutions with a power they are quick to wield—the legal power to gag survivors and destroy lives. I never want another survivor to feel the isolation I felt in continuing to fight against my university. She is a beacon for those of us who cannot speak onstage.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
Her howl was heartbreaking and I was sobbing alongside every other survivor. During our first rehearsal for the Oscars performance, the 50 survivors and Lady Gaga made a pact to get a tattoo. As the designer, I created this original work of art to serve as the design for our tattoo. The design is to be used for tattoo purposes only and no other commercial purposes. If you have further questions or ideas, please let me know. The tattoo was made for and dedicated to survivors. It is a unity symbol inspired by the loops of our DNA structure and our universal infinity sign. It combines inspiration from Lady Gaga’s favorite flower, the white rose, to breathe life into an organic and growing symbol. The final image embraces a fiery shape to give us power and strength everywhere we go.

Fabiana Diaz

School: University of Michigan

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I helped coordinate the viewing at my University in April and also had Annie and Andrea for a Q&A, which is where we connected.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
What inspired me was her song. When I first heard the song in the film I broke down crying because I felt as if the song was written for me and about me. This song resonates with me, as much as it does with many survivors of sexual violence, and it allows me to push through.  I was just so truly grateful that Diane Warren and Lady Gaga wrote this piece because the impact it is having on the movement is exactly what we need. Thank you!

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
This song has the power to bring every single emotion out of you from pain to bravery and it did just that for me.

Becky Stepp

School: UCLA

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
After seeing the movie, I was inspired to share more details about my story as I had a very similar experience as many of the girls in the film, especially to Erica Kinsman and her fight with Florida State.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I came out with my story to help others not feel alone, to give people a voice that did not have the means to speak about their experience themselves. That’s why, when I got an email last week about standing on stage in solidarity with other survivors, I could not pass up the opportunity. Standing on stage was more than just a moment, standing on stage meant so much more. We stood there for the millions of people who have been assaulted and we proclaimed in silence that there needs to be a change on college campuses.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
When I heard “Til It Happens To You”, I finally felt that someone understood. Being assaulted is just a phrase until you have to deal with the indescribable pain and loneliness. This song gives people who feel alone at least one person who gets it.

Lea Roth

School: Dartmouth College

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
My activism with #RealtalkDartmouth and #EdActNow was featured in The Hunting Ground, as well as a visit visit Annie Clark during Nastassja’s and my organization Spring Up’s workshop tour.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
It’s always a powerful experience to participate in collective activism, and I wanted to share this moment with other survivors who have been using their voices and actions to advocate for change every day for years.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
Her performance on the night of the Oscars was so powerful, so honest, so vulnerable, and raw—it was such an incredible honor to share in her creative process and to create a piece of performance art that touched so many people.

Nastassja Schmiedt

School: Dartmouth College

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was included in The Hunting Ground discussing my experience of sexual assault, I’m depicted talking with Annie Clark in Los Angeles during my workshop tour with my company, Spring Up, and my protest at Dartmouth College was depicted at the end of the film.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I decided to participate because it is so important to have LGBTQ, genderqueer, and black survivors visibly included in the discussion as we experience sexual violence at higher rates and are less likely to be believed. It’s a privilege to be able to speak publicly about my assault without losing the support of my family, and I was honored to be able to partake with my fiancée Lea Roth.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
Hearing Lady Gaga perform “Til It Happens To You” was surreal, I have expressed each of the ideas behind every line in one way or another—and to feel heard and mirrored by someone I have admired for years expressing those same concerns on such a huge stage is something I will never forget.

Kirat Sandhu

School: Indiana University, Purdue University Indianapolis

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Honestly, I was inspired to stand up and share that stage and my story because I wanted to break the mold of what my Punjabi-Indian culture has deemed normal. It’s normal for experiences with sexual violence to be swept under the rug, and I want more people who look like me and come from similar backgrounds to know, that they are not alone in what they’ve been through.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I felt angry, sad, and liberated all at once. I know the pain of what happened to me will never go away, but being on that stage and hearing her sing was validation for every time I have fought to share my story.

Chloe Allred

School: Cornish College of the Arts, Laguna College of Art and Design

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I saw The Hunting Ground at the Seattle International Film Festival. I went with a friend and I didn’t know much about it, just that it was a documentary. The film stunned me—with story after story like my own, not just of surviving sexual assault, but of being abandoned and shamed by peers, friends, schools, family, etc. In my own life, I found the friends who truly cared about me and stuck by my side. That helped me survive. After the film ended, there was a Q&A with Amy Herdy, one of the producers. I approached Amy after the Q&A. I was a real wreck, I had been crying for about 80% of the film, but I felt deeply grateful that The Hunting Ground team was addressing this in such a huge way. I make paintings about survivors of sexual assault and eating disorders. It has been my way of processing my own experience, and also of giving a platform to other survivors. I gave my card to Amy, she looked up my work, and we’ve been in consistent contact since!

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I am deeply passionate about this topic. It guides my artistic practice and activism. Through the Body Joy Project, I have worked with numerous survivors of eating disorders, sexual assault, and body shame. Their bravery and resilience is truly inspiring. Their willingness to share their story with me and allow me to paint them has been an honor. The opportunity to be on stage with Lady Gaga and the other survivors just felt right. I wanted to take a very public stand against rape culture. It was exciting, but definitely not easy. Addressing my rape in public is hard, and it brings back a lot of pain from that experience. But it is also healing to take ownership of my story and show other survivors that they have nothing to be ashamed of, that they did nothing wrong.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
A punch to the heart, in a good way.

Jasmin Enriquez

School: Penn State University, University Park

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for the Hunting Ground a while back. The first time I was raped I was in high school. The second time I was raped I was in college but I never reported either assaults so my experiences didn’t necessarily fit the documentary narrative. I still do Q&A panels around San Diego with the film, though!

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I knew there would be hundreds of thousands of people watching the Academy Awards who were survivors. I wanted them to know that they are not alone. I wanted them to see that there are people in the world fighting for them, and with them, to create change. To me, it was important for them to know that we were all standing in solidarity with them.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Hearing Lady Gaga sing “Til It Happens To You” made me feel emotional but most importantly it made me feel like other people understood my pain.

Hannah Schiller


School: MIT

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for the film and appeared in it for a short time.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
When I was asked to take part in the performance, I immediately agreed because it was an amazing opportunity to help promote a cause I am passionate about on the Oscars stage. As the performance drew nearer, it became more important to me to be on that stage, to let survivors know that they are not alone, they are believed, and they should not be ashamed.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
I avoided listening to the song until after I agreed to be in the performance, because I knew it would be upsettingly accurate (and it is).

Stephanie Feldman


School: Scripps College

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I have friends who were in The Hunting Ground and I’ve felt such a deep connection to the film’s message. I am so grateful that I was given this opportunity to be a part of it.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Speaking out and taking a stand is such a huge part of my healing process and it’s why I’ve dedicated myself to providing a platform for survivors to share their voice with my project, Be Heard. Being honest about my experiences is empowering to me and being given the chance to stand alongside other brave, strong and outspoken activists was simply a dream come true. This was such a special opportunity to be able to stand for survivors everywhere and to raise awareness around the world.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
It was breathtaking, she sings with such conviction. I think almost every survivor can relate to the song, it’s a testament to the problem of rape culture in our society. You shouldn’t have to be a survivor to understand the devastation of sexual violence, hopefully one day we can live in a world where that’s no longer the case.

Ariane Litalien

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

School: Harvard University, McGill University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was sexually assaulted by a classmate who lived in my dorm at Harvard. I was interviewed about my experience for The Hunting Ground in fall of it made such a huge impact on my life. It taught me that my voice mattered at a time when it was being constantly suppressed by administrators.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Getting to know fellow survivors at Harvard, as well as Annie and Andrea from The Hunting Ground, helped me get through the past three years, and made me feel so much less isolated. I wanted to pay it forward and let other people know they are not alone.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I cried the first five times I heard it, and cried again after every rehearsal at the Academy Awards. There is something about this song that perfectly embodies the essence of what being a survivor feels like. It is just so incredibly cathartic to hear it.

Ibis Valdés

IbiscropSchool: Northeastern University 

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed in October when I was the Director of Communications at Northeastern’s Feminist Student Chapter. I received an email in our group account from the producers looking to make a documentary about sexual assault culture on US college campuses. I agreed to an interview where I spoke about my assault, how the university handled it, and the activism I’ve done since.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Once I heard news that Lady Gaga signed on to promote the documentary through a song, I knew the theme and message of the documentary would instantly reach millions. I just didn’t anticipate HOW. I was inspired to stand up there for my fellow feminists of all backgrounds; for my Latinx feminists; for friends of mine who have shared their sexual assault stories with me; and lastly for myself, as a beautifully poignant redemptive moment for all the times I was depressed, unfocused, and isolated because of what happened to me.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
 was inspired, moved, and one step closer to healing and full redemption from my assault.

Emily Farley

EmilycropSchool: University of Notre Dame

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for the film. The producers found me based on news articles about the play that I wrote as a student called Loyal Daughters. Discussions surrounding The Vagina Monologues were getting tangled up in arguments on morality, its relevance on a Catholic campus, and shock value rather than the important topics of sexual violence and sexuality. I wanted to create something by, for, and about Notre Dame students, that spoke to sexuality and sexual violence as experienced by my peers, so the message couldn’t be ignored. After conducting about 60 interviews with students, faculty and staff and collecting written submissions, I compiled them into a series of anonymous short scenes. With the help of a huge team of talented, passionate people, we put on an amazing multiple-night run to a packed house each time. I’m honored and proud that it continues to be adapted, updated, and produced annually—ten years later.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to stand up on stage for all the people who so bravely and generously shared their stories with me back at Notre Dame so that together, we could educate, support and inspire the rest of the student body. I wanted to stand up for the people who saw themselves represented on our stage back at Notre Dame, and represent them on the Oscar stage with Lady Gaga. I wanted to stand up for me because despite all of my theatre activism at school, I focused on the stories of others and tried to bury my own, seeing it as irrelevant and insignificant. I was completely in denial about my own experience of assault until I saw an eerily similar situation reflected back to me by a sexual assault awareness program called Sex Signals put on by Catharsis Productions, hosted by Notre Dame. It wasn’t until that moment that I could begin to process what had happened, which led me to dedicate the rest of my college career to working to help myself and others through it. That is the power of creative sharing.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
I am not alone.

Kevin Kantor


School: University of Northern Colorado

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
After I went public with my story, and the subsequent exposure that my poem “People You May Know” received, I was incredibly humbled by the wealth of love and support that flooded in from fellow survivors and allies to the cause. I was afforded a platform to speak out and educate on these critical issues & have been doing so since I graduated in May. However, as an actor, my first few post-graduate experiences attempting to find representation left me feeling lost and defeated again. Just days before I was invited to join Gaga at the Oscars, I was told in an agency interview that it would be problematic to sign me because of how public I had gone with my rape, that my image was “unpalatable” and “too difficult to sell.” Being a survivor is not something you become, it is something that you do. Every day. Standing on stage with all of those brave and brilliant humans, Gaga included, was just one act of our collective ongoing survival story. The opportunity to exist as loudly and defiantly as we did in front of so many respected members of my industry lent me the reaffirmation of my worthiness, and the worthiness of survivors everywhere, at a time when I needed it most.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
It brings hope that survivors everywhere will feel validated and heard with this anthemic song, this battlecry.

Aryle Butler


School: UC Berkeley

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was part of the film, and took part in filming for over three years as a survivor, activist, and passionate supporter of the message. I also formerly worked with End Rape on Campus (EROC) and took part in the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and subsequent Q&As.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Sexual assault can be isolating, and knowing that others will see all of us, together, and know they are not alone is the greatest gift I can give to other survivors I have yet to meet. I work doing violence prevention community education at Human Options in Orange County, and know that showing my community in Southern California that strong survivors stand up on this issue was important for me. It’s a way to give back to the community and to be a part of something greater than myself. Throughout all of my academic work, my legislative and activist work at the state and federal level, and all my own personal healing work, I am always in awe of the beauty and strength that takes root when individuals forged in tragedy and adversity create communities of immeasurable love and incredible power. Standing together is as close to invincible as any one person could be.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Until you do something, it will happen to too many.

Nora Bales


School: California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I wasn’t in the Hunting Ground, but my best friend Ari Mostov was.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I’ve never publicly shared any aspect of my story, and I rarely privately share anything about it either. This issue has long been very important to me—I personally am a survivor and many of my closest friends are, too. What ultimately gave me the courage to stand onstage was the memory of my friend Sasha, who took her life after an intense legal and personal battle following her sexual assault at her school, University of Missouri. (Her story: Too much goes unsaid, and for too long I’ve been relying on the strength of others to make changes in how rape and sexual assault are dealt with on college campuses and our culture at large. I’m finally ready to share what happened to me.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I felt simultaneously brave and terrified, and that I definitely made the right choice.

Julia Dixon


School: The University of Akron.

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I appear in the documentary talking to Annie and Andrea via Skype, discussing the Clery complaint that they helped me file. I am very lucky to have so many people I consider friends in the documentary.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I thought about what it would have meant to me when I was 18 or 19, recently assaulted, to see this kind of stand on the world’s biggest stage. It would have made me feel less alone; it would have emboldened me. I know there are still so many people going through their recovery in that lonely space, and I want to help them get out of it as fast as possible.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I felt overwhelming solidarity with people I had never even met, and strength to keep moving forward.

Rose Richi


School: University of Connecticut

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I interviewed for the film and made a small appearance towards the end; the clip is from one of the many news outlets that followed our title IX lawsuit against UConn.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
The opportunity to reach millions of people in one moment. Lady Gaga is an incredible person who is standing up to an industry and a culture that shames survivors and I wanted to be a part of that.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
There aren’t words to describe how I felt on that stage; it was transcendent.

Sage Carson


School: University of Delaware

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I have spoken on panels for The Hunting Ground about my work surrounding sexual assault in Delaware and on UD’s campus.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I stood with Lady Gaga and other survivors on stage to show survivors across the country that they are not alone and that they are loved. I isolated myself for so long after my assaults because I felt no one would believe me or knew what I was going through. I hope that the performance showed other survivors that there is a community of people like them who believe them and will always support them. I stood on stage with an inspirational group of survivors in hopes of giving other survivors the strength they need to heal.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore.

Angelo Alessandro Rodarte


School: California Institute of the Arts

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
First and foremost, as a gender non-binary chicanx person, I stand for all trans*, queer, non-binary, LGB people and people of color. I have been deterred and silenced for a long time. Sexual assault can occur to all people of all walks of life. It’s not specific to race, age, gender, sexuality, lack of, or any other fictions we have been forced to believe—or constructs we are forced to live in. As victims, if we don’t come forward, this injustice will continue to thrive and affect more people than we can imagine.

I felt it was time to no longer stand silent on something we have been taught to be ashamed of. Even more so, it’s time to no longer allow ourselves to be oppressed by institutions that have much to gain by our silence.

I felt an obligation to not only change, but to set a larger stage for the dialogue. We are not victims, we are survivors.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Hearing “Til It Happens To You” challenged me to take back authorship of my body and emotions that previously felt both manipulated and stolen from me.

Andrew Brown


School: Brown University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was featured in The Hunting Ground.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to take this opportunity to tell survivors who haven’t told anyone that they’re not alone and they are beautiful.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
The first time I heard “Til It Happens to You,” it immediately brought me back to the confusion and pain I remember feeling between my assault and the first person I told. I knew the song and our performance could help people understand how difficult the experience can be for survivors and how deserving we are of respect


Zerlina Maxwell

Zerlina-320School: Tufts University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I met the stars of The Hunting Ground through my own work advocating against rape culture. As a journalist, I’ve covered campus sexual assault for a variety of publications and through that work have become connected with the network of students filing Title IX complaints against their colleges and universities.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to show that even after sexual violence, you can live a happy life! I wanted to show those at home that they are not alone. I wanted to stand in solidarity with others who have a shared experience of overcoming the most intense form of adversity.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
At the beginning of the song I feel rage and sorrow, but by the end of the song I feel powerful and determined.

Myra Crimmel

myra-crimmelSchool: University of California, Santa Barbara

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I filed a Title IX/Clery Act Complaint with the assistance from Sofie Karasek, who was in the film and is now one of the founders of End Rape on Campus.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to be around other survivors who took action against their perpetrator and consequently had to fight against our own universities’ administrations.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Sexual assault is just another word until it becomes the pain you live with for the rest of your life—don’t judge us.

Ryan Clifford

ryan-cliffordSchool: University of California, Davis

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
The Hunting Ground filmmakers interviewed me, a male victim of a sexual assault.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I want others to know that I am a male victim who was sexually assaulted and brutally hazed by fraternity members. I have learned that no one wants to recognize that even a male can be a victim of a sexual assault and even if one believes it can happen, no one wants to talk about it.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Lady Gaga brings life into the song for victims to know that they are not alone.

Melissa Maher


School: Iowa State University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
My friend, Annie Clark, is one of the main subjects in The Hunting Ground. She let me know about the film when it was being made and let me know they were looking for subjects, but at the time I couldn’t participate because I was involved in an active lawsuit about my case.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I stood for every person who couldn’t stand up. I had also decided if I could get one person to realize they’re not alone, I was doing something to help.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
This song makes me think about everyone who told me I was fine, when they never knew what I was dealing with. The problem doesn’t disappear just because you stop thinking about it.

Robbie Woodsum

robbie-woodsumSchool: George Mason University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for The Hunting Ground and appeared in the film.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
My therapy dog had died unexpectedly and then I got the invitation to join my fellow survivors onstage with Lady Gaga. Life is a cycle of ups and downs, and this is one of those. It’s like the universe knew I needed excitement and distraction. Plus I would never give up an opportunity like this. Meeting my fellow survivors was the best part. We formed quick bonds and life-long friendships. Without their support, I don’t know how I would have managed through this past weekend.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
The first time I heard it, I cried. It embodies perfectly how you face the world as a survivor. You just don’t get it, until it happens to you.

Thanh Mai Bercher


School: The University of California, Berkeley

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
Most of the people who helped me and taught me how to help my friends are featured in the film. Working with them and getting to know Kirby was empowering in terms of having this issue be recognized beyond the confines of our campus. The Hunting Ground was the first place in which I saw our work validated. No other institution recognized the importance of our efforts and experiences.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
So many of the survivors that I know don’t feel validated, because they think that they are alone and have yet to hear that they deserve to be loved and supported. I hope that people who see this film, hear the song, or see us standing there can recognize that there are other people out there who have felt what they are feeling and continue to fight.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Lady Gaga conveys so much emotion and care, and this song just completely encompasses how it feels to experience trauma and have to navigate interacting with other people.

Molly Mescall


School: Saint Mary’s College/Notre Dame

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
Yes, I appeared in the film speaking about my experience at Notre Dame.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Being a part of The Hunting Ground film, I feel that saying yes to this experience was only natural. Sharing my story with others has helped me to heal and I can only hope that it can help others who may be in the position I was once in.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
Lady Gaga’s performance of Til It Happens To You was extremely powerful to witness, and was yet another reminder that I am not alone in the pain that I have experienced.

Maya Weinstein


School: George Washington University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was featured in The Hunting Ground.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Ever since The Hunting Ground, I have seen how sharing a story brings others the strength to share theirs. The more the issue is brought to light, the more power survivors feel to stand up and stand together. I have always looked up to Lady Gaga, and was drawn in by her genuine devotion to making the world a better place. I couldn’t think of a more intense and special way to reach such a huge audience and inspire many more survivors to share their stories.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
When I heard Lady Gaga sing “Til It Happens To You,” I felt connected to everyone on that stage. I felt something way bigger than myself and I realized the power that we all held by simply standing in unity.

Ali Arman


School: UC Berkeley, Harvard University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed in the film. I shared how hard it was to tell my parents about my assault, and I discussed the toll my assault had on my mental health.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to show people that there’s life after sexual assault. In my interview, I talked about attempting suicide. By sharing my story, I want people to know that there is so much more out there than the pain they’re feeling. There are new friends and bad dates you haven’t met yet; there are amazing successes and crushing failures you still have to learn from; there are gorgeous sunrises and moments of being that you deserve to be alive to see. I shared my story so people will know that sexual assault is not the end of their stories.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
First I cried, then I smiled.

Wagatwe Wanjuki

School: Tufts University, Rutgers University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for it and appear briefly in the documentary.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would be a historic moment in the visibility of survivors.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I was blown away and touched by the pure emotion she exuded during her performance.

13th Student Files Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Harvard

Yet another sexual assault survivor has spoken up about Harvard’s failure to keep her safe.

Alyssa Leader is the thirteenth Harvard student to file a Title IX lawsuit against the school, alleging that Harvard repeatedly ignored her reports of assault and even housed her with her attacker.

The school has a legal duty to support victims, adequately investigate complaints of campus sexual assault and harassment and separate victims from alleged perpetrators in the process.

After months of being told Harvard could do nothing about her continually being harassed, Alyssa sought and obtained a permanent  restraining order against the accused in civil court.

Harvard has a serious problem. Kamilah Willingham, a survivor who spoke in our film about her trauma and Harvard’s attempt to bury it, has endured tremendous abuse as a result of her bravery. Some of her own professors went so far as to ridicule her publicly while grossly distorting the facts.

Until schools take their federally-mandated duty to protect students seriously, it falls to survivors like Kamilah and Alyssa to come forward and create change. It shouldn’t be their responsibility to protect their peers and future students, but they do and we commend them for their courage.

Thankfully, there are other Harvard students and educators trying to enact positive change, like the student Harassment/Assault Legal Team (HALT) at Harvard Law, which came to the defense of Kamilah’s account in The Hunting Ground, and Jessica Fournier ‘17, an organizer of the anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better. This week, Fournier outlined her organization’s goals for the semester: “[We] see our role as a voice outside of the administration, outside of Harvard, that is able to be critical of what the administration is doing and to push… a policy-oriented angle.”

For more on Alyssa Leader’s lawsuit, read Tyler Kingkade’s article in the Huffington Post.