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Sexual assault documentary explores epidemic of rape on college campuses

CM: How has The Hunting Ground been received in the media?

GD: The film has been almost universally reviewed as powerful and important. The press has expressed that parents need to see this, and universities need to make it part of their freshman orientation and sexual assault awareness programs, the same way they have training on drug and alcohol safety. The film has won awards and been shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination. So cinematically, it’s been respected by its peers.

But, of course, there’s been some blowback, which we anticipated, by some of the universities that are in the film. Florida State University has hired a public relations firm to try to debunk the film. People are defending Jameis Winston, who’s about to become NFL rookie of the year. There’s been a lot of blowback from alumni directed at the family of the young woman that brought his case before a tribunal. There’s been some media that’s been challenging the statistics of this film. But that Harvard study really helped us a lot because that was even worse than the data that we reported.

More: 7 Things your daughter needs to know to stay safe in college

CM: What are the accusations being made against the film and what is the filmmakers’ response?

GD: So the biggest accusation is that the data is flawed. We’ve aggregated studies that have been done through the U.S. Department of Education and state boards of education and data that has been reported by universities, which they are required to report through Title IX [the law that prohibits sexual discrimination in education]. There are 174 universities in the country that are under Title IX investigation. If women are not being believed, and 1 in 4 college women are being raped, that it is not safe. They are not getting access to a fair education the way that men are. Under Title IX, universities risk losing federal funding, so that is why the data is being questioned.

Secondly, there are individual cases in the film where the assailants have obtained lawyers that are trying to protect their clients. The universities have hired PR firms that are trying to protect their brands. Both are calling into question the film, but there has been nothing retracted due to inaccuracy. Not one fact. The movie was bought by the Weinstein Company and Radius, and it’s been on CNN. Jameis Winston threatened to sue CNN, but that suit never happened. The film simply reported on what happened on the campuses at Notre Dame, Harvard and in Florida State.

We’re showing facts and saying there’s a widely held cultural belief that women don’t tell the truth. That’s not true. Let’s just take the worst case scenario, that 8 percent of all rapes that are reported are falsely reported. That means 92 percent of them are still true, and we are not doing anything about the 92 percent of the women that are reporting and not getting their due process. There isn’t accountability, and perpetrators are not being adjudicated for the crimes that they commit. That has to change.

So we take umbrage with the level of investigations on this issue, which has made people say, “The pendulum has swung too far,” and, “This is not a black-and-white issue.” The only cases we reported on were black and white. One-hundred thousand women between the ages of 18 and 21 were raped on college campuses last year. That is too many women, too much of a loss of idealism, aspirations, goodwill and promise. It’s costing us our girls, our young women and our daughters. Somebody needs to stand up to that, and that’s what this film does.

CM: How did Lady Gaga’s song about The Hunting Ground come about?

GD: We have two executive producers on the film, Paul Blavin and Regina Scully, who really felt that it was important to bring popular culture into this issue. And Diane Warren is a seven-time nominated Academy Award-winning songwriter who is herself a victim. She reached out to Lady Gaga and they co-wrote the song, “Till It Happens to You,” because they both have been sexually assaulted.

Prominent women have come forward to say, “This happened to me,” and that helps demonstrate how prevalent the problem is and gives other women permission to talk about it. So having Lady Gaga involved has been amazing — she’s been generous and kind. She was inspired by the young women in the film and has been supportive of their activism. More than 30 million people have downloaded the video — that’s more people than have seen the film. So the short form of the music video has had a huge viral impact. And I think it’s reached a younger audience, which has been terrific.

More: What every parent needs to know about tougher campus safety legislation

CM: What can students and parents do if they’re concerned about how universities handle reports of sexual assault?

GD: One of our calls to action is for visiting parents and prospective students to ask, “What is your sexual assault policy and what is the history of it on campus?” Quite frankly, U.S. News and World Report should be reporting on the top schools with the best policy, the safest schools and possibly those schools with the highest incidents.

The job of the university should not be to protect their brand but to protect their students and provide a safe place for them to learn and prosper and contribute to society. If they’re sweeping this under the rug, or they’re hiding information or demonizing women that come forward, or diminishing the prevalence of the crimes that are happening, they should be held to a higher standard of accountability. I think donors, trustees, parents and alumni have a huge role to play here.

When this report came out from Harvard, every single Harvard alumnus received an email from the president of Harvard stating, “…this is the evidence that we saw…. we were shocked by the prevalence of it…we have a problem here that we underestimated…and we were going to do something about it….,” and that is the responsible response, not to shrug it off or dismiss it. The same way that the military, when confronted with the data, said this is a bigger problem than we have admitted, and we need to have structural reform in order to address it. And they put reforms in place very quickly.

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