Screenings of The Hunting Ground and discussions at City College raise awareness by Enoye Uwa
Rape has decreased over the past 25 years in New York City. But on college campuses across the country, sexual assault continues to be a crisis.
To highlight the problem, CCNY will be hosting a free two-day screening of the critically acclaimed documentary The Hunting Ground in observance of April’s National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Academy Award-nominated film director Kirby Dick documents young women from Harvard University, the University of North Carolina, and Florida State University as they speak about their encounters with sexual assault. These stories detail the attacks these women survived and the lack of support they received from their peers and the college administration.
Sexual assault has become part of the national conversation. In 2014, President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden united to launch the “It’s On Us” initiative to end sexual assault on all college campuses. This awareness campaign is largely in response to the staggering number of American college students who have experienced some form of sexual assault or violence over the last five years. Down the street from CCNY, Emma Sulkowicz received national attention after she carried a mattress around Columbia in response to her alleged rapist being ignored by university officials.
Statistics from the National Institute of Justice show that one in five women will experience rape in a five-year college career. These numbers alarm both students and their parents. Nicole Adams, a 52 year-old bedside nurse from Brooklyn and mother of two CUNY students, said this issue is not going to end: “I think it’s mind-blowing, I mean, this happened when I was in school in the 80’s and it’s still happening? Ain’t never ending.”
According to crime statistics at City College, sexual assault happens very rarely on our campus. But activists insist that too often it goes unreported.“Two years ago there were three horrifying anonymous secrets on the [CCNY Secrets] Facebook page that detailed the sexual assault and rape of students on campus,” says activist and City College student Natalie Renteria. “Since then, various organizations have come together to spread awareness on gender based and intimate partner violence and found that there was a huge gap in the needs of students.”
One of those needs, Renteria believes, is a safe space for “support, resources, or just to talk about it.” She and other students are participating in the Gender Resource Center initiative to create a counseling safe-haven for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence,
In an effort to rectify the issue, each institution has a Title IX office, a safe haven that focuses on the administration’s handling of sexual complaints, transgressions, and experiences on school grounds. At City, the Title IX office has jurisdiction over the entire CCNY campus and nearby Saint Nicholas Park, according to Title IX coordinator Michele Baptiste Esq. “I have an open-door policy for anyone who needs to talk,” Baptiste, who makes it her mission to help survivors and other visitors feel completely comfortable when visiting her office.
The discussion after “The Hunting Ground,” will also offer students a chance to share their experiences. The elite schools featured in the film have an institutional interest in protecting the athletes and fraternities affiliated with their institutions. Erica Kinsman, one of the women in the movie and the coed allegedly sexually assaulted by famed Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, speaks about the assault for the first time in the documentary. Upon meeting Winston, Kinsman thought he was a complete gentleman, until they began drinking. “I’m totally certain something was in that drink,” Kinsman said, not realizing she had met the man that would change her life forever. Hours later, Kinsman found herself in a cab on the way to Winston’s apartment where she says the rape occurred.
What happened next still weighs heavily on the minds of Kinsman and her family. The Tallahassee police did nothing for ten months. The rape kit was not analyzed, Winston was not formally questioned and when authorities delved into the case, Kinsman’s account was met with skepticism. The backlash from her peers was even more difficult for the young woman to handle. The very students, who should have supported Kinsman after she came forward, instead ostracized and berated her to the point where she had to leave FSU to escape the intimidation. The same intimidation scared former Saint Mary’s freshmen Lizzy Seeburg and University of Missouri swimmer Sasha Menu Courey into unbearable silences that probably contributed to these two women taking their own lives.
Other campus officials closely involved with the issue of campus violence worry about the affect of these kinds of high profile cases. “I think that there are people, students, who do not come forward for a myriad of reasons, including because we character assassinate them.” says Anjanette Levert, program manager of CCNY’s Documentary Forum, which is hosting the screenings. “We treat them terribly. We make it uncomfortable for them to say anything.”
Levert adds that character assassination of survivors has become embedded in our society and encouraged through phrases such as:“ You’re a whore” and “You shouldn’t have worn that short skirt.”
Putting an end to sexual violence begins with every single person on campus, not just the survivors or the administration. This week, all students on campus should take advantage of the opportunity to educate themselves about this serious problem affecting college campuses.
The Hunting Ground two-day screening will kick off Wednesday, April 22nd 5:30 – 8:30 P.M. in Shepard Hall Room 291. Refreshments will be served and immediately following the film there will be a discussion with on-site counselors available. The following day, Thursday, April 23rd 12:00 – 3:00 P.M. during club hours, another showing will take place in The Spitzer Auditorium AR 107.
City College has a zero tolerance policy for sexual endangerment and misconduct towards anyone on campus. If you or someone you know is a survivor of an on-campus sexual assault, please contact the Office of Community Standards at 212-650-5009 or the Title IX office at 212-650-6310.