June 18, 2019 | 65° F

“Something bigger than yourself:” “The Hunting Ground” screening addresses sexual violence on campuses

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

More than 2,000 students filled the College Avenue Gymnasium in order to understand the issues surrounding sexual violence. 

The Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) and Health Outreach, Promotion, and Education (HOPE) hosted a screening of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about rape on campus, on Oct. 1.

VPVA is an organization dedicated to assisting those who are victims of sexual violence, while HOPE is dedicated to all other health-related issues, including those for sexual violence survivors.

The film, released in February of this year, details the struggles victims face with the legal system if they wish to pursue charges against their offender. 

Ben Weise, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said this is not a widely-known issue. 

"I’m hoping that all the people who came to watch this will get something out of it," he said.

The event, which began at 7 p.m., kicked off with spoken word poetry, video clips and anecdotes from Rutgers students. 

Shay Gitter, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore, said she was happy Rutgers was making an effort to raise awareness. 

Gitter said she is a peer mentor at Rainbow Perspectives, an LGBT support group, which aims to address sexual violence in the LGBT community.

This is the first event in a year-long campaign to address sexual violence on campus, said Francesca Maresca, director of HOPE. 

Laura Luciano, assistant director of VPVA, said the documentary was "powerful."

“The Hunting Ground” was shown to small audiences in the spring at the Rutgers Cinema on Livingston campus, but this is the first large-scale screening Rutgers has conducted, Luciano said. 

“My hope is that it will have a positive impact on students so that they will see that they can really be part of a movement to stop sexual violence from happening,” she said.

The student culture has a lot of work to do before the movement takes off, said Connor Hollis, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and representative for both VPVA and HOPE.

“(Sexual assault) does happen," he said. "It’s not an isolated incident that you can distance yourself from — it happens to people around you.”

According to VPVA, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. 

Despite the University having one of the top programs in sexual violence education, it falls short of its expectations as reported in the #iSpeak study published on Sept. 2, he said.

The University was asked to pilot the survey because of the programs that already exist here, Hollis said. 

“In terms of trying to combat sexual violence, Rutgers is really far up there," he said.

The email containing the results of the study, sent by Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards, said 1 in 4 undergraduate women at Rutgers experience sexual assault before stepping foot on campus, and 1 in 5 reported unwanted sexual contact on campus.

The event was followed by a question-and-answer session with Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two graduates from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the survivors featured in the film. 

Clark and Pino toured a few dozen other colleges before this event to present “The Hunting Ground.”

“You have 2000 people come to this event — I’ve never seen this before,” Pino said. “And I think, maybe things are starting to change. Maybe folks really want to be a part of the conversation ... I really hope that (the students) take it beyond this gym.”

The University faced a dilemma earlier this year after a student, who was sexually assaulted twice in a year, criticized the way the University’s Office of Student Conduct handled her situation.

Similar controversies have occurred on campuses across the nation.

Emma Sulkowicz, who graduated from Columbia University this year, carried a mattress around campus as not only performance art but also as protest against the university’s decision regarding her sexual assault.

Columbia absolved her assailant of any charges. Sulkowicz hauled the 50-pound mattress with her everywhere during her senior year. She vowed to do so until graduation or until Columbia expelled the offender.

Research conducted by the Department of Education quantified the number of sex offenses that occurred at New Jersey colleges from 2004 to 2013. The New Brunswick campus has an average enrollment of 48,036 students and reported 123 sexual offenses.

Sexual violence specific to colleges is slowly on the rise. The Obama administration published a set of guidelines in 2014 to address sexual assault on college campuses. 

Senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett said in The New York Times article, “The Return of the Sex Wars,” that campuses need a “more victim-centered approach” to address instances of sexual violence.

“I think it’s an opportunity for both the administration and the students to have a larger conversation, and I hope it doesn’t end when the film ends,” Clark said.

College administrations have struggled with generating new legislation to deal with these incidents, said Harvard professor Janet Halley, who distributed a memo to her colleagues and Harvard’s president detailing the flaws in Harvard’s new rules.

“(The new University Policy and Procedures) provide an overly broad definition of sexual harassment, far beyond anything that federal courts recognize,” she said. “ ... they are defective on every known scale of equal procedural treatment of the parties and due process.”

Rape is no longer a matter of simply the offender and the victim. Indeed, many more parties must work together to resolve this issue. 

“For everybody, you have a responsibility, and you can be a part of a movement,” Clark said. “And you can do something bigger than yourself.”

Bushra Hasan

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