The statistics are staggering. One in five women in college are sexually assaulted, yet only a fraction of these crimes are reported, and even fewer result in punishment for the perpetrators. From the intrepid team behind The Invisible War comes The Hunting Ground, a piercing, monumental exposé of rape culture on campuses, poised to light a fire under a national debate.
In a tour de force of verité footage, expert insights, and first-person testimonies, the film follows undergraduate rape survivors pursuing both their education and justice, despite ongoing harassment and the devastating toll on them and their families.
Scrutinizing the gamut of elite Ivies, state universities, and small colleges, filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering reveal an endemic system of institutional cover-ups, rationalizations, victim-blaming, and denial that creates perfect storm conditions for predators to prey with impunity.
Meanwhile, the film captures mavericks Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, survivors who are taking matters into their own hands—ingeniously employing Title IX legal strategy to fight back and sharing their knowledge among a growing, unstoppable network of young women who will no longer be silent.
Since the film’s premiere at Sundance, it had been screened at the White House and hundreds of college campuses across the country. The documentary has inspired new laws in New York and California and changes in campus policies.
The Facts of The Hunting Ground
In an effort to dismiss the crisis of campus sexual assault, some rape deniers have attacked the findings of our film and some of the victims in it. Whatever the motivation of these critics—and frankly it boggles the mind—the truth is on our side. These are the facts.
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Kamilah Willingham’s Story
On January 16, 2011, third-year Harvard Law student Kamilah Willingham (KW) reported to the Harvard Office of Sexual Assault and Responses that she and her friend (AB) were sexually assaulted during the early morning hours of January 15, 2011 by fellow Harvard Law student Brandon Winston (BW). On January 18, 2011, Willingham filed a report regarding the assault allegations with Cambridge Police.
The Harvard Law Investigation and Adjudication
On April 18, 2011, Willingham filed a complaint with the Administrative Board of Harvard Law School, alleging that Winston violated the Law School’s policy and guidelines related to sexual harassment. The Board appointed an independent Fact Finder, an attorney, to investigate her claim.
On August 10, 2011, the Fact Finder released a report that found that Winston “was not credible” in regard to his version of the sexual contact with both Willingham and her friend, and that Willingham did not give affirmative consent to Winston to engage in sexual conduct with him. From the Fact Finder’s Report:
“His [Winston’s] denial was not credible.”
“BW’s actions in undressing AB, touching her body, rubbing her crotch, and inserting his finger in AB’s vagina, when she was incapacitated by alcohol intoxication, was abusive and unreasonably invasive.”
“BW’s explanation that he believed AB welcomed the sexual conduct is not reasonable or credible.”
“The Fact Finder finds the evidence compelling, and finds that BW could not reasonably have believed that his sexual conduct toward AB at KW’s apartment was welcome.”
“BW changed his account at least two times.”
“BW did not appear credible when providing the explanations, and they do not offer a reasonable explanation for his statement that he put ‘a finger briefly in the v at most’ or for his later retraction.”
On September 19, 2011, the Harvard Law Administrative Board conducted a hearing on Willingham’s complaint against Winston. After reviewing all of the evidence, the Board found the following:
“The student [Winston] had initiated sexual conduct with the complainant while she was asleep or unconscious, and not capable of consenting.”
“He [Winston] had initiated sexual contact with the friend while she was incapable of consenting.”
“The student’s [Winston’s] conduct toward the complainant was unwelcome and abusive or invasive, and that it had the effect of unreasonably interfering with her work or academic performance and/or created an intimidating, demeaning, degrading, hostile or otherwise seriously offensive working or educational environment at Harvard Law School.”
As a result, on September 21, 2011, the Board imposed a sanction of dismissal on Winston.
Harvard Law initiated a required appeal of Winston’s dismissal in the Spring of 2012. The flawed appeal process violated a number of Title IX guidelines, and Harvard was later forced to change its policies in a settlement with the Department of Education. As a part of the appeal process, Harvard Law faculty voted to overturn the findings of both the Independent Fact Finder and the Administrative Board and reinstated Willingham’s assailant. The appeal process included the following actions:
Harvard Law initiated a Review Hearing without informing Willingham or including her in the process, a direct violation of Title IX guidelines.
The Hearing Officer for the appeal process interviewed the accused (with his lawyer present), but did not interview Willingham, violating Title IX guidelines.
The Hearing Officer was one of the accused’s professors. When Willingham later asked the Harvard Law dean in an email about the professional and personal relationship of the accused and the Hearing Officer, the dean refused to disclose that relationship.
The Review Hearing upheld the Administrative Board’s sanction of dismissal.
Despite the fact that the Review Hearing only included Winston’s testimony, an assembly of Harvard Law faculty full professors proceeded with their review and voted to overturn the findings and decisions of the Independent Fact Finder, the Administrative Board, and the Hearing Officer. This process was in direct violation of Title IX guidelines.
Willingham was not notified of the appeal decision until months after the accused was notified (another violation of Title IX guidelines) and after the accused had returned to Harvard law where Willingham was still enrolled.
Harvard Law refused to inform Willingham of who was present at the Harvard Law faculty vote, what the vote count was, or what the specific reason was for overturning the finding.
The dean of Harvard Law refused to give Willingham a written or digital copy of the decision to overturn the findings.
The Department of Education Investigates
In the 2014 settlement agreement of the Title IX complaint between the Department of Education (DOE) and Harvard Law School, Harvard Law was required to change its appeal process. The DOE chose to highlight only one case (without identifying names) in their press release about why Harvard had to change its appeal process. Every indication is that the case was Kamilah Willingham’s.
The Criminal Process
In September 2012, prosecutors from the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office presented six possible charges to a Middlesex Superior Court grand jury. The grand jury indicted Winston on two felony counts of indecent assault and battery (the equivalent of felony sexual assault) against Willingham’s friend. In March 2015, a jury convicted Winston for non-sexual assault.
1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college
A multitude of national and individual school studies over the past fifteen years have come to the universal conclusion that approximately 20% of female students will be sexually assaulted during their time at college.
The large, national The Washington Post-Kaiser Poll (2015) found that 20% of young women who attended college during the past four years were sexually assaulted.
A study commissioned by the Association of American Universities (2015) surveyed 150,000 students at 27 colleges and universities across the country and found that 27.2% of female college seniors reported they had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact since entering college.
England (2015): A national survey of more than 20,000 students from 21 four-year colleges found that 25% of college women were sexually assaulted.
Kilpatrick (2007) A national sample representing women currently attending U.S. colleges and universities found that 11.5% have been raped.
Fisher (2000): A national sample of 4,446 women found that 20-25% were sexually assaulted.
Outreach to Universities
The filmmakers reached out to the presidents of every college and university mentioned in the film. Two university presidents were interviewed for the film, and thirty-five college or university presidents declined to speak or did not respond.
Erica Kinsman’s Story
Early in the morning of December 7, 2012, Florida State University student Erica Kinsman reported to the police that she was raped several hours earlier by an unknown man after drinking a Potbelly’s, a popular local bar.
A thorough examination of the police investigation of Kinsman’s rape by The New York Times found that “there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university” into the events that occurred on the night of December 7th, 2012. According to the Times, investigators showed little interest in finding out what happened on the night of Erica Kinsman’s rape. They “delayed talking to witnesses, interviewing Jameis Winston (the accused) and collecting his DNA.” The following timeline details how long it took police to gather key evidence and FSU’s failure to investigate Kinsman’s report of sexual assault.
12/7/12 –Erica Kinsman, a Florida State University student, reported to the Florida State Police and the Tallahassee Police Department that she was raped several hours earlier by an unknown man after drinking at Potbelly’s, a popular local bar. Police took Kinsman to the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where a rape kit was administered and bruises were noted in Kinsman’s medical record. The police didn’t act on information provided by Kinsman, and failed to obtain and review the video camera footage at Potbelly’s, locate the cab driver who drove them from the bar, or interview critical witnesses, all of which would have aided investigators in identifying Kinsman’s assailant.
1/10/13 –The police failed to identify Winston until 34 days after Kinsman’s initial report, learning his identity only after Kinsman recognized him in class and informed the police. Police waited nearly two weeks to contact Winston after Kinsman identified him as her assailant.
1/22/13 – FSU Head Football Coach Jimbo Fisher and Senior Associate Athletics Director Monk Bonasorte learned that Winston had been accused of rape. Both were obligated by FSU policy and the U.S. Department of Education to report this to FSU’s Title IX Coordinator so that they could begin an investigation, but did not.
1/23/13 – The Tallahassee police contacted the accused after waiting nearly two weeks. Winston did not show up for the requested interview. Instead, his attorney appeared at the Tallahassee police station on his behalf.
2/11/13 – The Tallahassee police closed the case 66 days after Kinsman reported her rape, without interviewing Winston and crucial witnesses (one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter) or getting DNA or phone records from Winston. The investigative officer, Detective Angulo, had worked for the Seminole Boosters, the fundraising arm for FSU athletics. The officer’s report states that he suspended the investigation because the accuser was uncooperative, which she denies.
10/25/13 – Kinsman notified her victims advocate that she wanted to participate in FSU code of conduct proceedings for a Title IX investigation of her case.
11/12/13 – FSU Dean of Students Jeanine Ward-Roof and FSU Police Chief Perry learned that a second FSU student had accused Winston of sexual assault. Ward-Roof emailed FSU Policy Chief Perry that there would be no disciplinary proceedings against Winston for either assault, a direct violation of school policy and U.S. Department of Education guidelines.
11/13/13 – The State’s Attorney Office of the 2nd Judicial Circuit began an investigation into Kinsman’s assault.
11/14/13 – Investigators interviewed key witnesses and obtained DNA samples from the accused 342 days after the initial complaint was reported. For the first time, investigators interviewed two teammates of Winston’s who claimed to have witnessed sex between Winston and Kinsman. Investigators also obtained Winston’s DNA, which matched DNA found on Kinsman’s clothing.
12/5/13 – The State’s Attorney Office announced they were not charging Winston. The Tallahassee police investigation is closed.
1/23/14 – More than one year after FSU officials were made aware that Winston was accused of rape, FSU finally meets with him regarding the Kinsman case. him. Winston refuses to answer any questions. FSU does not meet with Kinsman.
2/10/14 – FSU closes the case (even though they still had not interviewed Kinsman) because Winston refused to speak with them.
12/5/14 – Nearly two years after the report of rape, FSU held a hearing regarding Kinsman’s case, even though the Department of Education strongly recommends that any accusation of sexual assault be investigated and resolved within 60 days.
During the hearing, Kinsman answered all 156 questions asked of her. Winston refused to answer all of the questions asked of him except three. This was the exchange:
Justice Harding: And I would like to know in what manner, verbally or physically, that she gave consent. And I ask that with the understanding that you have previously given.
Winston: Both, your honor, verbally and physically.
Justice Harding: And what did she say and what did she do?
Winston: Moaning is mostly physically. Well, moaning is physically. And verbally at that time, Your Honor.
Justice Harding: Well, that was during the sexual encounter?
Winston: Yes, Your honor.
Justice Harding: Okay. All right. Thank you.
12/21/14 – FSU hearing officer found Winston not responsible for raping Kinsman, despite the fact that Winston violated FSU’s student policy requiring verbal consent of sexual encounters.