The Hunting Ground, a documentary directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering—the team behind The Invisible War—has received critical acclaim for bringing new light to the campus rape crisis facing schools across the country, and breaking the silence on sexual assault reports suppressed by college officials. Since its release in February, The Hunting Ground has screened at more than 700 universities, high schools, community centers and government offices—and it’s having a major impact.
As a direct result of The Hunting Ground screenings, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently signed off on Enough Is Enough, a law that aims to protect students and prevent sexual assault at New York colleges. It requires schools to “adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines, including a uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy and expanded access to law enforcement.” Since it became law in July, Enough Is Enough has inspired more than 40 mayors from the state to support similar legislation in their cities.
Also, after seeing the film in October, Chancellor Mike Powers of the University of Alaska Fairbanks issued a public apology to rape survivors for the school’s negligence in cases of sexual assault, with a promise to “…band together to help advance a culture of support, caring and safety.”
And most recently, Julie Smolyansky, one of the film’s executive producers, revealed that The Hunting Ground has had an impact outside the U.S. “Globally, the film has instigated campaigns to combat sexual violence on campuses, recently raising $1 million in Australia to support screenings and outreach efforts there. Efforts are underway to launch similar campaigns in the U.K. and France,” she wrote on Instagram.
The film will air on CNN Nov. 22 at 8 p.m. EST, and in anticipation of the big screening, the Ms. Blog chatted with Ziering. Below, she discusses further legislation needed to protect victims of assault, the far-reaching impact of the documentary so far and her own reactions to the reception of the film.
Ms. Blog: Although some action has been taken to prevent assault on college campuses, such as President Obama’s It’s On Us campaign and other state and local legislation, do you feel like enough is being done?
Amy Ziering: Kirby and I applaud the efforts of the Obama administration, Gov. Cuomo and Chancellor Powers [at the University of Alaska Fairbanks] for demonstrating exemplary and unprecedented leadership on this issue. It’s a great and encouraging start, but as you say, so much more needs to be done starting with the passage of more federal and state legislation and with institutions themselves stepping up and changing their policies. Additionally, college presidents and the Board of Trustees need to take a significant leadership role by implementing zero-tolerance policies that are no longer simply rhetorical. Following the recommendations of NGOs, policy advocates and survivors, we ask that college presidents and Boards of Trustees appoint impartial, independent investigators, meet with survivors and campus groups to hear their grievances and concerns, institute mandatory climate surveys and publish those findings, and implement policy changes to adjudicate these crimes more fairly.
What changes have you seen at the colleges, film schools, community centers and government offices where you’ve screened the film?
Amy Ziering: Some colleges have started taking climate surveys, which is a significant step. The results of these surveys should be made public so that students know the number of incidents of sexual assaults at their colleges. On many campuses, survivors and administrators are finally engaging in dialogue, initiated by screenings of the film. Annie Clark and Andrea Pino—two of the survivors featured in The Hunting Ground—are regularly invited to colleges to speak. We have had a terrific response from high schools where principals are screening the film for juniors and seniors and engaging in discussions with them. The film is also inspiring faculty and alumni to organize, rally and network around this issue.
One of the initiatives of our social action campaign is reaching out to governors and state legislatures. We launched last month by sending a packet of information and a copy of the film to governors, asking them to view the film and host a gathering with survivors, stakeholders, legislators, educators and NGOs. Recently, the First Lady of Pennsylvania, Frances Donnelly Wolf, hosted a screening at the governor’s mansion for 100 people. We are in conversations with gubernatorial staff to screen the film for different constituencies and for state legislatures. We are also reaching out to the secretaries of education and PTAs across the country. It is also worth mentioning that we have screened the film for the White House, Department of Education, Department of Justice, the Office of Violence Against Women and for the NCAA; we are engaged in conversations with their task force.
What is the most profound change you have seen implemented in public policy to prevent assault or support victims?
Amy Ziering: While legislators, advocates and experts around the country are working hard to hasten the implementation of extensive policy changes, the most profound changes we’ve seen to date are happening on the cultural level. We are literally changing hearts and minds with each screening and, along with the student movements, are really helping to take down a great number of myths that currently plague our culture about the nature of these crimes and give them cover.
How has your own perspective been altered by the reaction to the film?
Amy Ziering: I am constantly inspired by the survivors, parents, activists and college administrators who have the courage to speak out and who are working tirelessly to stop this epidemic of campus rape. At every screening, women and men come up to me and tell me that they are survivors, or know survivors who have never talked about it, but because of the film they now feel empowered and supported. It is comments like these coupled with the boundless love, support and thanks from survivors, victims, advocates, whistleblowers, parents, students, their loved ones and families that inspires us daily.