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The Hunting Ground

Year: 2015
Production Co: Chain Camera Pictures
Director: Kirby Dick
Producer: Amy Ziering
Writer: Kirby Dick

Antirape activists and a lot of feminist thought talks about the 'rape culture' we live in, and the strongest takeaway I got from this film wasn't the fact that sexual assault is an epidemic plaguing American colleges, it was the glimpse into the rape culture that propagates and excuses it in just one such setting.

When a young woman comes forward to testify that a promising young college athlete has raped her, all the signals and reaction she receives – from insidious hints to outright institutional obstruction – is that he made a mistake, he had a bit of drunken fun, it's unfair to derail his bright future. She's taught that as she (statistically) suffers from depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other psychological fallout from the crime for years to come, his life is more important than hers.

But rather than set out to highlight and criticise rape culture, the ostensible target in The Hunting Ground is its propagation in college campuses in America; the cover-up, obfuscation and sweeping under the rug about just how many young women are raped when they're on the first and formative steps of their adult lives.

Like a lot of conspiracy theory movies it has a quite simple method of learning why things are the way they are, and that's to follow the money. American colleges need incredible amounts of money to survive, and it comes both from the cripplingly high student tuition costs of the American education system and very well heeled former students and their donations. The last thing the deans and boards of some of the most prestigious schools in the country want for the truth to emerge that (as the film claims) one in four women will experience sexual assault while on their campus.

As The Hunting Ground points out, that means it's in the college's interest to not only cover up how many girls are raped while under its care, but discourage as many of the victims as possible from collectively revealing the truth and igniting any scandal.

The story hangs upon the framework of the stories of many of the victims, very brave people who talk direct to camera about their experience both with their attackers and the system that further brutalises them.

A couple of them went on to form a foundation to try to shine a light on the extent of the issue, and it made me feel a lot better than watching that idiot Joe Biden strutting around the stage of the Oscars with 'his friend' Lady Gaga telling the world we have to do something about it when he spent the previous eight years with plenty of power to do something about it.

But there's also a pervasive sense of depression – it's one of the oldest crimes known to humanity and will probably never go away, certainly not while society (let alone celebrated universities) so thoroughly destroys and undermines victims who deserve justice and/or are brave enough to come forward, and certainly not while we live in a far reaching, silent and insidious rape culture.

Not that any of that is ever a reason to stop talking about it, however. If nothing else galvanises you into action (even if the action is changing your own beliefs about rape and society's response to it), the anger you'll feel at another young woman's life and sense of safety shattered should.

One of the most poignant reminders of what this does to people is when another victim's story begins, this time as told by her father. It quickly dawns on you why everyone except the victim herself is telling her story, and when it's revealed she was unable to live with what happened to her or the treatment meted out after it and killed herself, it's still like a kick to the stomach.

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