SURVIVORS

‘The Hunting Ground’ Sheds New Light On Campus Rape Epidemic

A new documentary follows two activists around the country as they talk to fellow survivors about the trauma of rape and the triumph of survival.

02.26.15 8:35 PM ET

Rape has always been a taboo topic in our society, but lately that seems to be changing thanks to activists like Annie Clark and Andrea Pino.

Clark and Pino are leading the crusade for Title IX—a federal legislation most famous for sports equality, but which prohibits all discrimination (including sexual harassment and violence) on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding—and the Clery Act, which grants protections for sexual assault victims on college campuses. They recently made their film debut as activists in the new documentary “The Hunting Ground,” by Oscar-nominated filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering.

Pino graduated valedictorian of her high school and was the first of her family to leave her home state of Florida to go to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Clark, a North Carolina native and high school athlete, wanted to stay in state for college and chose Chapel Hill as well. Having both survived rape while college students, they eventually created End Rape On Campus, a survivor advocacy organization dedicated to ending sexual violence.

The documentary follows the two women as they drive cross-country to meet with other sexual assault survivors on college campuses who wish to file complaints against their schools. Clark, who became a campus administrator at the University of Oregon after graduation, reflects in the film, “I basically had to make a choice if I wanted to continue to support survivors or have my actual administrative job at a university. I figured I could do more good this way, so I resigned.”

The film notes that 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted in college, and 88 percent of women raped on campus do not report. Pino details her violent assault as a second year student. She says, “It all happened really quickly. I was actually a virgin, so that adds a bit to it. He just started pulling me towards the bathroom. He grabbed my head by the side of my ear and slammed it against the bathroom tile and it didn’t stop.”

Pino’s traumatic memory has yet to subside. “When you’re scared and you don't know what’s happening to you, you just stay there and hope that you don’t die. And that’s when I was hoping, that I had more than just 20 years to live.”

Clark mentions receiving many death and rape threats for going public with her assault. A resolute Clark says, “Here is the experience of several hundred survivors. Unless something happens, it’s not going to change.”

Filmmaker Kirby Dick discussed the obstacles of making this film with The Daily Beast. “This is a problem at all of the thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. We wanted to make a film that didn’t just focus on three or four campuses and people would walk away saying that those were the rape campuses. We wanted people to walk away knowing that this is a prolific problem within higher education.”

In order for the filmmakers to accomplish that, they were in contact with hundreds of survivors and did extensive research for many months. Producer Amy Ziering added, “The complexities and the nuances of this issue were also a challenge, and the fact that power in these institutions is not hierarchically ordered is another problem.”

Revisiting UNC, Chapel Hill reignited the feelings of terror and shame Andrea Pino experienced after her assault. She later found out that multiple other women were raped that same weekend. “The worst part for me has been to relive the experiences of everyone else,” Pino recounts.

Through tears, survivors from Florida State, Notre Dame, USC, Yale, and Harvard describe their horrific sexual assaults. Yet in the face of these stories, Pino and Clark are unafraid. “It’s the only way I get up in the morning. I would have given anything to have someone who believed me, someone who supported me,” Pino says.

In the film, an ABC news reporter in Berkeley, California says, “These students went from sexual assault victims to survivors and now activists.” Words could not ring more true for these two heroic women.

The film hits theaters this Friday, February 27th.