Johns Hopkins screens documentary about sexual violence on college campuses

'The Hunting Ground' sparks spirited discussion among students, faculty, and staff

Johns Hopkins University hosted a free screening Thursday of the documentary The Hunting Ground, a stomach-churning and emotional look at rape culture on college campuses.

After the film, the documentary's director, Kirby Dick, led a discussion and answered questions from the audience.

The film, released earlier this year and filmed on more than a dozen college campuses, argues that survivors of sexual assault rarely receive justice from their school administrations or the police. In fact, the film suggests that many colleges have systemically incentivized the protection of perpetrators of sexual assault.

The Hunting Ground employs juxtaposition to show the violent realities some women and men face at the hands of their classmates. Statistics, like those from the Washington Post-Kaiser Poll of 2015 that 20 percent of young women who attended college in the past four years were sexually assaulted, are intercut with sweeping shots of bucolic college campuses.

Colleges across the country, including University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, Harvard, Occidental College, and Johns Hopkins have faced investigations by the U.S. Department of Education for their handling of sexual assault accusations.

During the question and answer session, Dick, the film's director, praised JHU Assistant Vice Provost and Dean of Student Life Terry Martinez for organizing the screening and facilitating the discussion. He said that, "dollar for dollar, the best way a school can fulfill its mission statement to educate young people" is to revamp the investigative and adjudicative process for sexual assault cases.

Discussion also focused on how faculty members can advocate for survivors without facing retaliation from school administration, and how students can be involved in creating a safer environment on campus.

Representatives from the JHU Sexual Assault Response and Prevention program spoke of their efforts to help survivors navigate the reporting process and to provide confidential peer support. A member of the Bystander Intervention Training program, which trains students to safely and creatively intervene to prevent gender violence, said the training she provides is the most important thing she does on campus.

"The Hunting Ground" delivers a stirring call to action to support survivors, help pass stricter legislation for the reporting process, and hold university presidents accountable for administrative response to rape culture.

In August, JHU released a consolidated policy on sexual misconduct informed in part by the Sexual Violence Advisory Committee, which gathered input from members of the Johns Hopkins community, particularly students.

The policy spells out the procedures for reporting sexual misconduct, including sexual assault complaints, and outlines a new process for the review of cases involving students. When issuing the new policy, JHU President Daniels pledged that "while we have made mistakes, we have held ourselves accountable and continue to improve."