I wasn’t prepared to watch the young women who were raped on campus tell their stories in The Hunting Ground shown Sunday, November 22 on CNN. As the founder and executive director of Keep Her Safe, I already knew the stories and read about the topic daily. Still, watching them in the film was difficult. Seeing and hearing these women tell their stories hit me in my gut and my heart.
They are so young and went to college with enthusiasm and excitement. The women depicted in the film were good students with aspirations for their futures. They also took to college a naiveté and trust that resulted in rapes which took all that from them and more.
It was easy to tap into the energy and excitement they felt as they began the college phase of their lives. I see that same energy and excitement in my own daughter. Though she is still in high school, I watch her growing up and she gets closer to the day that she will go off to college just as the women in the film did. I wonder if I need to kill her sweet naiveté and trust before she goes. If I do, will it even protect her from the tragic experience of being raped on campus?
The statistics are bad and have held steady in study after study since the first one conducted in 1987. Since 1987, nearly 30 years, researchers have known that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted before graduation. That number is startling for sure, but more startling was seeing and hearing the women affected tell their own stories. Many reported that as horrible as the rape was, more difficult was how they were treated when they reported their incidents to their school administrators. Their complaints were suppressed, they were blamed for their own rape, and too often the perpetrator went unpunished especially if he had special value to the school as an athlete. When athletes were involved the horror for the victim often escalated as team fans threatened her on social media and sometimes even face-to-face.
All the people involved are someone’s child. I identified with the parents of the young women, several of which hadn’t told their parents. One expressed a concern that the fact she was raped would always be there when her parents looked at her. I understood what she meant. I thought about how painful it would be to see my daughter and know she had been raped. I wonder how one heals this wound. This, however, is not the worst that parents experience. Some have seen their daughter’s light go out completely when she has taken her own life after being raped.
As I watched The Hunting Ground, I wondered about the parents of perpetrators. I wonder what they are thinking and whether they are talking with their sons about sexual assault. What do the parents of sons rushing Sigma Alpha Epsilon think about its nickname Sexual Assault Expected? Are they proud for their son to pledge this fraternity? This is a nickname that spans campuses across the country where women are frequently warned to avoid the SAE house.
One of the stats presented in the film relates to athletes and sexual assault. Male athletes are less than 4% of the college population but are responsible for at least 19% of sexual assaults. Are parents of college athletes aware that their son is part of this group harboring so many perpetrators? Do any take the opportunity to turn their son into a leader willing to protect women from predatory teammates?
Annie Clark is one of the women depicted in The Hunting Ground and is executive director of the student group End Rape on Campus. In a recent editorial she writes it is “unacceptable that this responsibility has fallen on the backs of 18- and 19-year-olds who have had to publicly stand up to their institutions for violating federal law.”
That was my thought also while watching these brave young women tell their stories and figure out how to hold their colleges accountable. I watched Annie with her friend and EROC Co-Founder Andrea Pino travel the country listening to women’s stories of being raped and helping them to file Title IX complaints. They are amazing young women doing important work, but it begs the question: Where are the grown-ups? In her editorial, Annie calls for allies including parents to get involved.
I invite parents to step up and join Keep Her Safe to stop campus sexual assault. Start during the college selection process by making campus sexual assault a consumer issue. Before committing a considerable amount of money to paying tuition, ask questions and tell the school administrators that you expect them to stop rape on campus. The Keep Her Safe Parent Guide at www.keephersafe.org can help. Let’s be the grown-ups.