By Elise Schoening
It happens in college dorms. It happens in off-campus houses and fraternities. It happens to both men and women.
Sexual assault happens.
On Wednesday, March 29, the College’s Office of Title IX held a screening of the documentary film “The Hunting Ground.”
The purpose of the event, which was co-sponsored by Residence Education and the Inter-Fraternity Council, was twofold: to shed light on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and spark a discussion within the community that supports survivors and works toward solutions.
“I am always trying to find different ways to highlight the issue of campus sexual assault and I believe that this is a very well-made documentary that is relatable to the college population,” said Jordan Draper, the College’s Title IX coordinator.
“The purpose of the event is to continue highlighting the important issue of campus sexual assault, provide a space for people to reflect on this at our campus and ensure that our students know their rights and resources if an incident ever happens to their friend or themselves,” she added.
Last year’s showing of “The Hunting Ground” took place in the Library Auditorium. Due to popular demand, this year’s venue was moved to Kendall Hall. Even so, the room quickly filled to capacity. By the time the opening credits rolled, there was not a spare seat in sight.
The documentary depicts a harrowing tale of sexual assault. According to the film, more than 16 percent of women are sexually assaulted while in college. Of them, nearly 88 percent do not file a report.
“Rape is a scary word,” said one student in the film. “You don’t want to fall into a category. You don’t want to be a victim.”
The film demonstrates that the few survivors who do step forward and share their stories publicly are often met with disbelief and blame.
After reporting his assault to college administrators, one student was told to drop out of school until “everything just blew over.” For another, a counselor she confided in later admitted to having completely forgotten about her report.
“The Hunting Ground” is a deeply personal and powerful film. Many students left Kendall Hall with tissues in hand and tear-stained cheeks.
The reality of sexual assault on college campuses is a harsh truth to face. By giving voice to survivors and presenting shocking statistics, “The Hunting Ground” succeeded in making this difficult topic both tangible and approachable.
“We can’t be naïve that issues like these haven’t happened at TCNJ in the past and that they’ll never happen in the future,” said Andrew Statkevich, Inter-Fraternity Council president and a sophomore communication studies major. “Joe Biden hit the nail on the head last year when he spoke to Congress and he said, ‘We are never going to solve this epidemic until men get involved.’ They have to be a part of the solution.”
Following the film, students broke out into small discussion groups. The women, as well as the men, were encouraged to speak up, share their thoughts on the film and develop ideas for enacting positive change on campus.
“Screening this film is a powerful way to continue the conversation outside of the purely educational setting of a classroom,” said Aditi Mahapatra, a community adviser and a senior public health and psychology double major. “The documentary is powerful and, at times, dark, but we want to remind students that they can be empowered and empower others through advocacy and activism.”
Before and after the film, counseling resources were projected on screen, urging survivors to seek help and utilize one of the many on-campus resources available.
“The movie puts colleges in a negative light, so we want you to understand that while this is really highlighting an important issue, it’s not reflective of the values that we have here at TCNJ,” Draper said. “We want students to report incidents and know their resources. We want to help provide a safe environment for all students, and we want to provide fair and equitable adjudication processes should students choose to pursue holding the person who harmed them accountable.”
The College is fiercely committed to addressing sexual assault, and its pledge to protect survivors spans all levels of administration, according to Draper.
“We saw a huge highlighting of college presidents that have had some issues with whether or not they take reports seriously,” Draper said. “At TCNJ, President Gitenstein has been invited to the White House at least on two separate occasions to talk about sexual violence, so this is an important issue to her and that trickles down to the entire College.”
Students seeking support for themselves or others are encouraged to visit the Office of Title IX, located in room 201 of the Brower Student Center.