It’s strange to think of Annie Clark and Andrea Pino as “stars” of the new documentary The Hunting Ground, since their “stardom” arose from traumatic real-life experiences. But they’re indeed the main protagonists of this game-changing film about campus rape, which opened yesterday today in New York and Los Angeles (and, in two weeks, in Boston, Berkeley and Washington, D.C.). Both young women were sexually assaulted while students at the University of North Carolina (UNC), and when they later met and shared their stories, they became key activists in an ever-growing movement to ensure justice for survivors and campus safety for all students.
Director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering previously turned their docu-advocacy lens on rape in the military, and their Oscar-nominated film The Invisible War helped spark congressional action. The Hunting Ground is the perfect follow-up, drawing attention to the longtime lack of accountability by universities when students are raped.
Clark and Pino spoke to the Ms. Blog this week at a West Hollywood hotel.
Ms. Blog: What do you hope viewers will glean from this movie?
Annie Clark: I hope everyone who watches the film takes something away from it, and for allies I think that’s a personal responsibility to do something, to take some concrete action or change the way they view things. For survivors I just hope they know they’re not alone and it’s not their fault and that there’s a lot of other people standing with them.
What has been the reaction to the film at the Sundance Film Festival and other screenings?
Clark: It got a standing ovation at every single screening, multiple times. Some campus administrators are hesitant to show it on their campuses because they don’t necessarily want to be portrayed in a “bad light.” But we’re not calling out a single institution: This is a problem everywhere, and the schools that are being portrayed are just microcosms of this national epidemic.
Andrea Pino: Just two years ago when the crew first started filming us, nobody was listening to us. To think we’d be premiering at Sundance, I would never have believed it.
How did the two of you meet?
Clark: I was a senior when she was a freshman at UNC and I had been very involved in the feminist community and the activist community, so we sort of knew of each other. But it wasn’t until I was working at the University of Oregon when I got this Facebook message, “Hey, can we talk?” Then we Skyped. Andrea shared her story with me and that things hadn’t gotten better since I was assaulted in 2007, and that’s when we started working together. We needed to do something more, and to call attention not just to UNC but something national. And you see in the film that we worked together all the time.
Pino: We still do.
Clark: It was a period of fact-finding, trying to figure out the best way to go about tackling a national issue. We found Title IX would be that vehicle, even though it was a civil rights law.
Pino: I was in a feminist political theory class and reading Catharine MacKinnon’s book about the first case she worked on, Alexander v. Yale, and I read how Title IX was used for sexual harassment and sexual violence. That’s it, nothing else—nobody ever helped me figure it out, it was very much just the books I was reading in my class.
Clark: It was very much these lawyers taking on these cases that were sort of shrouded in secrecy. And we figured we could make it public, and we could do it ourselves [hold universities accountable by using Title IX and the Clery Act]. When we did make it public, we were very intentional about saying, ‘We’re not doing this to vilify UNC: We love our institution, we’re holding it accountable because we love our institution.’ This isn’t just about UNC, this is a national problem—it’s not that if one school fires a few people the problem goes away. So [we showed] other students that they could do this, too, and connected with survivors at Amherst, at Yale, at Berkeley, at Occidental. Andrea did the same thing with Swarthmore and Dartmouth.
Recently there has been backlash by lawyers suing on behalf of perpetrators, and law professors criticizing their universities for adjudicating sexual assault cases on campus. What do you think of that?
Clark: I think we’re starting to see power shift towards equality, and that makes people uncomfortable because they think the scales are tipping in the opposite direction. And that’s simply not true. Just because we now know our rights and we’re exercising them, people are getting a little worried. We’re making it equal, and that freaks people out.
Pino: Historically, there hasn’t really been a deterrent for rape. So now the idea of [a perpetrator] getting expelled, of going to prison, is the most scary for those who are accused. But this is what survivors have to deal with every day—the fact that they’ll likely be forced to drop out, likely have to see these people [perpetrators] for the rest of their lives, and likely, honestly, to be raped.
Isn’t it true that students who are raped are particularly concerned about getting the rapist off campus, and they don’t believe that a criminal case happens quickly enough to accomplish that?
Pino: Why don’t women report? This comes out very clearly in the film: Because nothing happens. Even if you have a “perfect” case and have a rape kit, surveillance videos, witnesses. Nothing happened for Erica Kinsman [the Florida State student who accused star quarterback Jameis Winston of rape]. Not in the criminal justice system and not on campus. She tried both systems and they both failed her, more than once.
Annie, you were infamously told by a counselor after your assault, ‘Rape is like football, and you’re the quarterback; when you look back on a game, Annie, how would you have done things differently?’ Isn’t that ironic, using a quarterback analogy, considering the Florida State case? I’ll bet no one asked Jameis Winston how he might have done things differently.
Pino: No one ever asks anyone who’s accused of sexual assault what they could have done differently. That’s because it’s seen as a mistake. There’s a survivor, Laura Dunn, who has a quote, ‘My body is not for your learning.’ Sexual assault isn’t a learning experience. It doesn’t teach the victims how to live their lives differently. It’s not a mistake.
Clark: And right now, especially in the college setting, it’s seen as a mistake or mislabeled as an infraction—sexual misconduct, nonconsensual sex. Which downplays the fact that a crime occurred on your campus, and also means the schools don’t have to report it to the government as a crime and that the punishments are lower.
Especially if there’s drinking involved with a campus rape, some seem to feel that the rape is a “mistake” made by the rapist. Yet no one forgives a drunk driver who kills someone with their car.
Clark: If somebody breaks into your house, the police don’t go to you and say, ‘Did you lock your door? What were you wearing? Why were you drinking that glass of wine at your own table?’
Pino: It’s amazing how much is stacked against survivors, and women in general. [After my assault] I stopped wearing high heels, I stopped wearing dresses. I stopped running after I ran a half marathon a few days after my rape. I literally changed my entire lifestyle, not just because of my own assault but because of how I was treated. I dropped my major because it had night classes. I stopped going to the library. My whole life changed.
How many people have the two of you engaged in this movement since you started?
Pino: Hundreds of survivors.
Clark: We did a screening and talk at the College of William and Mary recently, and five survivors, including one male survivor, came up afterwards, crying.
Pino: There are so many people who haven’t had a chance to speak, and it’s so important for us to [put] sexuality, gender and race into the conversation as well. I had some survivors of color speak to me a few years ago and say, ‘I tried to go to the police and this is what happened,’ or ‘I talked to an administrator and they literally used my race against me.’ There’s a reason people don’t come forward beyond the actual humiliation of being told it’s your fault.
Clark: Also, the media looks for this “perfect” rape narrative—they look for someone who looks like me, a white blonde girl, who had this experience. Anything outside of that is viewed like, eh, maybe that didn’t really happen. There are so many types of experiences and so many ways to heal or get through it, and if you don’t follow the prescribed path of what the media or this culture tells you to do, it’s discounted.
What are you hoping for in terms of laws and at universities?
Clark: Short-term, we’re reintroducing a bill in Congress along with a bipartisan group of senators called the CASA Act—Campus Accountability and Safety Act. It does things like create mandatory surveys so we have better data to know what’s going on on campus, creates a confidential adviser liaison so a student can go learn their options confidentially, as well as some other things.
Pino: It seems very simple, but it’s rarely done. Rarely do students know exactly what their rights are.
Clark: I hope that CASA passes. I hope school policies get better. I hope state statutes get better, because right now they’re archaic. In some states, if you’re sexually assaulted [by] anal rape it doesn’t count; if you are assaulted by someone of the same gender, it doesn’t count. It’s ridiculous. Some of these survivors don’t even have the option of going to the police. So I hope, for the long-term, that the criminal justice system gets better and the school system gets better so a survivor has a choice and feels safe going to either one, knowing there’s a chance and a likelihood that something is going to happen. Whereas now students have to choose between the lesser of two evils, and oftentimes you’re not going to win either way.
How are you two doing personally, in your quiet moments? Are you still recovering?
Clark: For me it’s a lot of vicarious trauma, just hearing story after story. It’s not so much what happened to me personally any more: It’s just hearing [from] the students. But it’s also very empowering—survivors are talking a lot more, and I think we’re creating communities where people can feel a lot less alone.
Pino: For me, healing is definitely a process—you don’t get over it, you get through it. I’m really glad I have Annie in my life, I’m glad there are so many survivors I have met and formed this really tight sisterhood [with] across the country. I still don’t have my bachelor’s degree yet; I didn’t feel safe staying on campus. For my parent’s it’s so hard for them to swallow that—the fact that I worked so hard to get [to UNC] and don’t have my degree yet. But I’m in a much better place than I was just because I know that this is so much bigger than me.
Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage