The Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) sponsored a screening of the documentary, THE HUNTING GROUND on March 10 at the Douglass Campus Center. THE HUNTING GROUND is a discussion-provoking documentary that exposes the issue of rape on U.S. college campuses, institutional responses, and the complex toll rape culture has on students and their families. Following the screening, the School of Social Work arranged an interview with Amy Zierling, producer of the documentary, to share her commentary with social work alumni.
Amy Ziering is an Academy Award-nominated and two-time Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker. Her most recent film, THE INVISIBLE WAR, a groundbreaking investigation into the epidemic of rape in the U.S. military, won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the 2012 Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary, the 2014 Emmy Awards for Best Documentary and Outstanding Investigative Journalism, Long Form, and was nominated for an Oscar.
Q. How has the public response been to THE HUNTING GROUND?
A. It has been truly seismic and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that. We thought the response to THE INVISIBLE WAR was amazing and unprecedented, but this film has unleashed an equally if not more remarkable tsunami of support and interest. The film is a total game changer. I have had members of fraternities come up and say, “Our opinions were completely changed by this film.” An athlete told me he walked out of the screening and called his mother immediately to talk about it. We see schools embracing the documentary and providing opportunities for discussions after screenings. The documentary has energized students on college campuses to organize and be heard. The response has been very heartening, very inspiring.
Q. Why is this subject coming to light now? It certainly is not a new problem on college campuses.
A. The rise of social media has allowed rape survivors to communicate as they never had been able to before. In the past one’s assault and its aftermath was necessarily a very internal, private experience. Now survivors can cross communicate and connect with supportive communities in ways that were never possible before. Technology has empowered them to organize, trade notes, act collectively and expose vividly and in real time what they are experiencing on their campuses
I also think that in some ways THE INVISIBLE WAR opened up a cultural dialogue on sexual assault that to some degree helped the campus sexual assault issue to come to the surface. That film helped many better understand the nature of this type of crime and for the first time hear and understand it in an in depth way from the perspective of the survivor.
Q. Why are you drawn to this topic, and driven to make these documentaries?
A. The insanity of the injustice, the in-your-face wrongness of it, draws me to the subject. I have always been interested in social justice, and the egregious nature of these situations for me is just so startling. To me the fact that when you report these crimes you are the one held under suspicion instead of supported is just so blatantly wrong.
What’s more, unlike many social ills, this is one we do have solution for. We can do better on this issue. We don’t have to accept the current system fails as inevitable. There are answers within our reach.
Q. What is next for THE HUNTING GROUND?
A. We are continuing to host screenings – we’ve already booked 265 on campuses and have received over 2, 000 requests and more keep pouring in daily. We are hoping for policy change, and there are bills already in the works both on the federal and state levels as a result of this issue receiving greater attention. And we hope that parents, students, faculty, and administrators feels empowered to transform their campuses in ways that make them safer and most just.
Q. What would you say to an audience of social workers about the role they play in addressing campus sexual assault?
A. I would thank them for their compassion and courage in doing this work as I know how difficult, and taxing it is - and let them know that as first responders they really can and do have a transformative impact on the lives of persons who have experienced these crimes. I spoke with countless men and women who said that the way in which administrators responded to them very much determined the nature and path of their healing. So they play a tremendous and vital role – that should never be underestimated and should be well supported by their institutions and well appreciated by their community.