Survivors can not be the only people concerned with this issue. 

The Hunting Ground
Image via IMDb

Last year a documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival about the rampant occurrence of sexual assault on US college campuses and the covering up of these sexual crimes by college administrators. The subject matter of The Hunting Ground may be difficult to examine and emotionally upsetting, but sexual assaults happen on every campus. If we want to change the way these crimes are being ignored and even covered up, we need to look at the prosecution of sexual predators differently. It is crucial to our society that everyone watch this documentary, which is available on Netflix or Amazon Video.

In the words of Lady Gaga’s Oscar-nominated song written for the documentary, “Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels.” The truth is, there is no reason sexual assault could not happen to you.  It could happen to you, your family, or your friends. Sexual assault crosses all genders, ethnicities, ages, and economic backgrounds. It can happen to anyone. It can happen fast, without warning. It can come from a person you know, a person all your friends know, a person you have class with. Survivors of sexual assault have not just been attacked by strangers but have also been “date raped,” meaning they know their attacker. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in.

College is not a safe place, even though institutions would like you to think that they are a safe place for learning. They do not want to take action against sexual predators because it will publicize the sexual crime at their school and will make the school look unsafe to parents and donors. If an institution does not report the sexual assaults on their campus, then they can statistically say that they have a very low percentage of sexual crimes at their school.

When a survivor of sexual assault comes forward to file a report, the school official’s first job is to protect the school, not the student. They work for the school, and it is in their best interest to keep the number of sexual crimes artificially low. It will harm a faculty member’s career if they instead advocate for survivors because they would be choosing the student over the institution’s reputation. Faculty who are not protecting the school can be fired and then may find it difficult to be hired elsewhere, having been branded a troublemaker and an activist.

School officials often ask individuals not to report sexual crimes to the police, even using scare tactics to keep survivors from reporting by saying, “It could be dangerous for everyone if word got out.” They have even been known to ask the survivor what they were wearing or why they did not fight their attacker off, implying that they are lying or that the survivor deserved the attack in some way. This is why so many attacks go unreported. This is why so many predators continue to prey on new victims. Many survivors do not want to come forward because they feel like they made an error or that they were wrong in some way. They do not want their family and friends to look at them like they are imperfect. We need to change this.

When survivors do come forward, they often get the blame for the assault. Under no circumstances does what someone was wearing or how much someone was drinking make a sexual attack their fault. The person solely responsible is the sexual predator, and after they have done it once, it is just a game of numbers. Statistically, assailants who have raped one person and gotten away with it will do it again since there were no repercussions for committing the act. This positive reinforcement by schools failing to take action keeps predators on campus and allows them to continue to prey on new victims.

For breaking their school’s Code of Conduct, many college students go before an Honor Board and are expelled, yet students who commit this most dishonorable act are largely ignored. Institutions can not possibly want these individuals to represent their school. Even so, there are more severe punishments administered to individuals caught cheating on tests than to sexual predators. How can survivors, forced to attend school with their assailants, ever feel safe on campus?

There are a percentage of horrible people and the same stories of sexual assault everywhere. They are on every campus in every state. We must accept this in order to change things. We must accept that even the school we love, yes even that school, has a percentage of sexual predators attending. When we hear of these people being prosecuted, this actually means that that school is a safer school because their percentage of predators just went down. It does not make the school more unsafe because they had one to begin with. They exist at every school, so there needs to be a positive social and financial gain for universities to get rid of these predators. We need to make or support positive media for schools prosecuting predators instead of focusing on the negative statistics of sexual crime on different campuses.

Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it nonexistent. It only perpetuates the problem. Survivors can not be the only people concerned with this issue. We need to change the way we view statistics of sexual attacks on college campuses and the prosecution of sexual predators — not just in retribution for survivors, but for safer campuses and the prevention of possible future victims. With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, there is no time like the present to watch The Hunting Ground.

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