[Trigger Warning: rape, sexual assault]
The Hunting Ground takes a long, hard look at USAmerican university campuses and their treatment of rape and rape survivors. Survivors like Andrea Pino and Annie Clark who were both raped at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As if that mere fact wasn’t bad enough, the way the university handled the attacks on them was so appalling that they decided to become active so that in the future, rape survivors won’t be traumatized all over again by the way their traumatic experience is handled afterwards.
It’s not that long ago that I saw The Invisible War. With The Hunting Ground, Kirby delves yet again into the topic of rape and how it’s treated by authorities and institutions after it happened. Only that this time he turns to an institution that doesn’t meet the strict patriarchal, hypermasculine criteria like the army does (or so you’d think) and still shows the same problems all over again.
The Hunting Ground is certainly not easy to watch. I cried more than once and caught myself gesticulating at the screen in anger more than once as well. Kirby is an effective filmmaker, but the women themselves and their stories are enough to get me going. It’s apparent that some of them wouldn’t have struggled as much with the fact that they were raped if it hadn’t been for the lack of support they received afterwards. Like a bad chorus, these women were advised to keep quiet, to not kick up a fuss, to think of their own attackers and the effects on their lives. Their experiences were doubted, their very characters called into question.
The film focusses on that perspective and through the research that Pino and Clark are dedicating their lives too, it traces the spread of theses things. And it appears that in the USAmerican campus system, a lot of extremely problematic factors come together to create almost the worst circumstances that you can imagine: the closed-off campusses, fraternity cultures, but above all the intertwined nature of economic necessity that runs through every fiber of the university structure.
Especially that last point is made very transparent. Universities need to make sure that enough students will pay tuitions and they need to make extra cash with advertisements and donations – a lot of which come through fraternities and sports contracts. With a system like that in place, is it any wonder that pretending that there isn’t any trouble at all seems like the universities’ best option?
But it’s not all a structural problem with universities and frat cultures, but rape culture in general. When you can have a young man who has no problem saying – and meaning – that it’s unclear what rape is, just because he touches and has sex with a woman who says no, does that make it rape?, it’s obvious that there is much more wrong with the way rape is being handled than simply capitalistic universities. Still, I’m happy that in Austria, most universities are public and we don’t have shut off campusses. Because that’s certainly a thing that doesn’t make anything better in the USA.