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Sexual assault documentary explores epidemic of rape on college campuses

CM: How has this changed as the discussion of “rape culture” has expanded in recent years?

GD: I personally think it’s a cultural belief that we’re going up against: the belief that women falsely report. The subject of rape and sexual assault began to enter the conversation more in 1970 when Gloria Steinem testified before Congress about the Equal Rights Amendment. And the fact that most of our kids are learning about sex for the first time with pornography has an influence.

There has been more attention on the issue since the movie The Invisible War [about sexual assault in the military] came out. The Hunting Ground actually came to be because we took The Invisible War to college campuses, and at every single one, women came forward and said, “This happened to me. And the university didn’t believe me. The same thing that happened to the women in the military happened to us.”

What was shocking to us was that the military actually responded to The Invisible War by reviewing what was happening, looking at the data and making changes. And yet most universities are going to great lengths to push this further under wraps.

Now, of course, there are some who are responding very well. [The] University of Alaska has been fantastic. Harvard has been fantastic. But a lot of other universities have not stepped up to this challenge yet. The ones that were in the Harvard study were shocked by the findings. So I think that the idea is that there’s more awareness. But the danger is that people still hold onto cultural beliefs about women falsely reporting.

More: Campus rape, and what officials are not doing about it

CM: What can we do about this pervasive problem of women being doubted when they come forward to report rape?

GD: I think it’s a widely held cultural belief that women entice, or they “asked for it,” or they are somehow responsible when something like this happens. There’s a lot of “What were you wearing? What were you drinking? Who were you with? Why were you alone?” If somebody breaks into your house and steals your television, the police officer doesn’t ask, “What were you wearing? Were you drinking? What do you mean you weren’t even in your home when your TV was taken?” Nobody says those things with another type of crime, but they say that when it’s related to sexual assault. And that has to change.

Police officers, administrators and counselors need to say, “Whatever happened to you, first of all, I’m sorry. Can you tell me as much as you can remember?” You’re overwhelmed, you can’t remember some things, you may still be in shock or in some level of trauma. So we need people to understand the impact of that trauma. And how to solicit information that is in a respectful, thoughtful, caring way — not hammering with questions.

Women falsely report rape a sexual assault at the same level as every single other crime that is reported, including robbery, arson, forgery, etc. Of all crimes reported, there is an average of 2 to 8 percent of people who falsely report. This is the same percentage with rape. However, unlike rape and sexual assault cases, you have tough standards and adjudication processes for other crimes, so those that are falsely reporting will be vetted out and held accountable. When sex is involved, people don’t like to talk about it, and because alcohol is often involved, people blame the alcohol. It just creates this whole conversation, which I think just perpetuates rape deniers. It’s not a black-and-white issue; there’s a lot of gray area.

And people talk about consent versus coercion. A lot of times when we’re talking about straight up rape, it’s coercion. We’re talking about girls that go into a bathroom to get a Kleenex or blow their nose. The door is shut, locked and they’re raped. That’s not consent. That’s coercion. It’s a crime. We need to change our language around consent. And we need people to understand that if somebody is intoxicated and you have sex with them, there’s no consent there — there’s no ability to have consent.

We have to be a lot more transparent and talk more openly with our sons and our daughters. We have a parent’s discussion guide for the film that’s free on our website. It offers ways to talk about your kids if you’re a teacher, if you’re a parent.

More: Students say rape culture is men’s problem, and for good reason (VIDEO)

CM: What simple techniques are there available today to prevent sexual assault?

GD: There are a number of social media apps where, if you’re in a situation, you can hit a number that contacts your friends and the police. We used to give our daughters pepper spray and bring them to self-defense classes. Now we have technology as well.

CM: Are males who report a rape treated differently?

GD: I don’t know. I do know men report less than women, and women already underreport. I think that the shame and stigma around this for men is even bigger than it is for women — or it’s not necessarily bigger, but it certainly results in less reporting. I do know that in the case of homophobic rapes, when a man’s been raped because of his sexuality, the lack of reporting is just as bad if not worse.

Next: More Q-and-A with the producer of The Hunting Ground, Geralyn Dreyfous

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